Debussy on himself as a pianist
16th of october 1898 Debussy wrote to Pierre Louÿs:
[I have] the tiresome habit of scattering wrong notes from both hands whenever [I have] to play in front of more than two people. [Lesure & Nichols p. 102]
In march 1914 a concert was arranged in Amsterdam with the works of Debussys, and he was invited to perform as a conductor and a pianist. He writes in an answer to the conductor Gustav Doret 30th of january 1914:
Three piano preludes: I. Dancers of Delphi, II. The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, III. La Puerta del vino. In fact that's all my limited capabilities allow me to play! If necessary, I could always improvise on the Dutch national anthem? [Lesure & Nichols p. 286]
An interview from 1914:
- Je ne suis pas un grand pianiste...
- Cela, j'hésite à le croire. On m'a rapporté que vos Préludes, quand vous les interprétez, sont une...réválation!
- Laissez dire. Ne croyez pas les encenseurs. Il est vrai que j'interpréte convenablement quelques-uns des Préludes, les plus faciles. Mais les autres, où les notes se suivent à une extrême vitesse, me font frémir [...] Je respecte les très chères filles de mon esprit, et me garde de les massacrer sur le clavier du piano. [Lesure (1987) p. 4]
A letter from 1915 to Durand:
But at least I'll see you again and be able to play you these Etudes which are giving your fingers such a fright... I may say there are certain passages which sometimes bring mine to a halt too. Then I have to get my breath back as though I'd been climbing a flight of stairs... In truth, this music wheels above the peaks of performance! It'll be fertile ground for establishing records. [Lesure & Nichols p. 301]
In a letter to Gabriel Fauré, who apparently had asked him to give a concert with the Etudes:
[...] I can no longer play the piano well enough to risk a performance of the Etudes... In public a peculiar phobia takes hold of me: there are too many keys; I haven't enough fingers any more; and suddenly I forget where the pedals are! It's unfortunate and extremely alarming. [Lesure & Nichols p. 324]