Karstein Djupdal >> Debussy >> pianist


Debussy at the piano

Accounts describing Debussy as a pianist


A mellow touch

Leon-Paul Fargue:

He would start by brushing the keys, prodding the odd one here and there, making a pass over them and then he would sink into velvet... [Nichols p. 49]

Léon Vallas:

He was an original virtuoso, remarkable for the delicacy and mellowness of his touch. He made one forget that the piano has hammers – an effect which he used to request his interpreters to aim at. [Vallas p. 108]

Marguerite Long:

Debussy was an incomparable pianist. How could one forget his suppleness, the caress of his touch? While floating over the keys with a curiously penetrating gentleness, he could achieve an extraordinary power of expression. There lay his secret, the pianistic enigma of his music. There lay Debussy's individual technique; gentleness in a continuous pressure gave the colour that only he could get from his piano. [Long p. 19]

Carezzando touch

Emile Vuillermoz:

I have never heard more supple, elegant or velvety playing. He obtained sonorities from the piano which softened the angles and asperities generated by his forward-looking inspiration. [...] that way of suggesting a note, by a discreet approach which brushes it without sounding it fully. [Nichols p. 156]

Maurice Dumesnil:

The tone he extracted from the Blüthner was the loveliest, the most elusive and ethereal I have ever heard. How did he do it? I noticed that at times the position of his fingers, particularly in soft chordal passages, was almost flat. He seemed to caress the keys by rubbing them gently downward in an oblique motion, instead of pushing them down in a straight line. [Nichols p. 159]

Louis Laloy:

Although he had not practised for a long time, Debussy still had a delicate touch and supple fingers which seemed to mould the sound that was overtaken by the rapidity of his soft, agile hands, and to spread it out smoothly in fluid, transparent layers. [Priest p. 49]

Louis Laloy:

That supple, living touch, with the hands always on the keys, palpating and feeling out the sound, which was needed for his music as for that of Couperin, Rameau, Schumann, Chopin, the authors he loved. [Priest p. 23]

Louis Laloy:

One day when I went to see Debussy and found him alone as usual, at the first words of welcome he went to the piano, impatient and perplexed like someone who has brought a surprise, but when the time comes to show it doubts whether it will be well received. The surprise was 'Le Faune' [from Fêtes galantes II], sung in his bass voice, almost whispering, while his soft hands, gliding over the keys, imitated the flute and tambourin. [Priest p. 8]

Close to the keys

Marguerite Long

[Debussy] himself played [the Sarabande from pour le piano] as no one could ever have done, with those marvellous successions of chords sustained by his intense legato. [Long p. 23]

Violinist Egon Kenton:

His hands never left the keys. [Howat (1997) p. 102n]

Alfredo Casella:

he made the impression of playing directly on the strings of the instrument... [Nichols p. 96]