Debussy - Jeux

Duration : 19 minutes

Ingo Metzmacher conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France performing Debussy's Jeux. Concert recorded live on 12 October 2018 at the Radio France Auditorium, in Paris.

Jeux is a work seemingly without a form. A work that ressembles no other, not a scherzo, nor a sonata-form, nor a theme and variations, nor even a rondo. A work that ressembles not even, if we look beyond the musical forms to the musical genres, a symphonic poem. Debussy indicated: "a danced poem". So it was to be. One must not forget the year was 1913, year of the Rite of Spring (which would be premiered only two weeks after Jeux, in the same Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, with an entirely different reception). It was also the year in which the Diaghilev'sBallets Russes were the talk of the town. Léon Bakst designed the set and the costumes for Jeux.Vaslav Nijinsky was cast as the young man, Tamara Karsavina, as the first young girl, and Ludmilla Schollar as the second. Nijinski himself authored the description of Jeux, described by Diaghilev (who was knowledgeable in these matters), as “a plastic apologia for the man of 1913". 

So what does the work depict? "The scene is a garden at dusk; a tennis ball has been lost; a boy and two girls are searching for it. The artificial light of the large electric lamps shedding fantastic rays about them suggests the idea of childish games: they play hide and seek, they try to catch one another, they quarrel, they sulk without cause. The night is warm, the sky is bathed in pale light; they embrace. But the spell is broken by another tennis ball thrown in mischievously by an unknown hand. Surprised and alarmed, the boy and girls disappear into the nocturnal depths of the garden."

The story is tenuous, but open to all possible interpretations: the harmonies and rhythms evoke, but conceal, an unprecedented erotic tension. A sensual music, therefore, a "music of gestures", says Michel Chion, a music made of perpetual transitions, a music of the scattering of timbres and motifs that amplifies the sounds and the impressions of the fascinating central section of La Mer. The music not only creates its own form, but spawns from itself much like the silk from a spider. It is only when seeing the work performed by an orchestra of performers that one fully understands the fragmentation of motifs, their intertwining, the way the colours are juxtaposed. This is no longer a symphonic sketch (or a danced poem), but rather an interlocking of infinite sketches which, by its complex shimmer, gives a dizzying idea of ​​what is born and reborn. always. We The Rite of Spring has been brought to mind, but the year 1913 is also that of Berg's Altenberg-Lieder. It is true that 1912 saw the creation of Pierrot Lunaire and Daphnis et Chloé. Then came 1914... One begins to dream: was Jeux one of these unsurmountable works, one which forbids us from going beyond?

Written by Christian Wasselin

Ingo Metzmacher conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France performing Debussy's Jeux, the Symphony n°2 by Dutilleux, and the Piano Concerto in G major by Ravel with the pianist Francesco Piemontesi
Full concert
The Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France performs Debussy, Dutilleux and Ravel with Francesco Piemontesi
Claude Debussy
Claude Debussy
All artists
  • Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio FranceOrchestra