A Difficult Competition Piece by Debussy Now a Treasure in the Repertoire

Aug 10, 2015

Competitions have tested serious music students for decades. They also have prompted the composition of works that continue to enrich the repertoire. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more on Claude Debussy’s Rhapsody No. 1 for Clarinet and Orchestra.

Radio Script:

Susan Lewis: Its ethereal quality belies its difficulty, but Debussy’s Rhapsody No. 1 for Clarinet and Piano was composed for clarinet graduation exams at the Paris Conservatory.

Ricardo Morales: It was a pretty treacherous piece when it first came out.

SL: Ricardo Morales, principal clarinet of The Philadelphia Orchestra, says the challenge was to express the musicality rather than show off technique.

RM: You can always find someone who can trill or play a chromatic scale or some passage faster. It doesn’t necessarily mean it's better because it's faster.  So many different elements, sound, phrasing the tempo relationship all of those kinds of things, color changes that come to determine what full musicianship is...

SL: Debussy completed it in 1909, then orchestrated it in 1911. 

RM: The orchestration is so beautiful. As a player it feels like a different piece. You hear all these different textures and different sounds.

SL: It was so difficult to play with clarinets of the time. There are passages in the work that were changed with Debussy’s permission, changes that exist in most versions even now.  

RM: But he wanted to keep his real manuscript – perhaps for the future, so it could be played the way he composed it.

SL: Today, Morales plays the work according to the original manuscript, with a clarinet he developed himself.

On Sunday, August 16, 2015 at 1 pm, Ricardo Morales plays Debussy's Rhapsody No. 1 for Clarinet and Orchestra with The Philadelphia Orchestra on WRTI, a re-broadcast from January, 2015.