Children's Corner  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Children's Corner (L. 113) is a suite for solo piano by Claude Debussy, completed in 1908. A typical performance of the suite will last around 15 minutes.

It is dedicated to Debussy's daughter, Claude-Emma (known as "Chou-Chou"), who was three years old at the time. The pieces are not intended to be played by children; rather they are meant to be evocative of childhood.

Emma-Claude was born on October 30, 1905 in Paris, and is described as a lively and friendly child who was adored by her father. She died of diphtheria on July 14, 1919, scarcely a year after her father's death.

There are six pieces in the suite, each with an English-language title. This choice of language reflects Debussy's anglophilia, and may also be a nod towards Chou-Chou's English governess. The pieces are:

  1. Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum
  2. Jimbo's Lullaby (This may well be a mis-translation from the English: Jumbo's Lullaby)
  3. Serenade of the Doll
  4. The Snow is Dancing (Isao Tomita's first album, of which this was the title track, rendered it as "Snowflakes are Dancing")
  5. The Little Shepherd
  6. Golliwogg's Cakewalk (often misspelled "golliwog", but this is a later usage)


The pieces

Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum

The title of the first alludes to Muzio Clementi's collection of instructional piano pieces, Gradus ad Parnassum ("steps to Parnassus"), which begins similarly to Bach's Prelude in C major (BWV 846), the initial piece of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Debussy's Doctor Gradus Ad Parnassum is of intermediate difficulty and requires experienced fingers. It has many diverse sections with a very impressionistic style to the work. It represents some of the typical piano techniques (cross-hands and the like). It starts in C major and makes brief forays into E minor, G minor, and B flat major as it modulates to a small middle section in D flat, then it returns back to the original theme in C.

Jimbo's Lullaby

This piece is a work of impressionism, with a sense of humour; normally a lullaby sounds rather sweet, but in this lullaby the lowest registers of the piano are completely magnified. It has a very peaceful and quiet atmosphere.

Serenade of the Doll

A very light piece, with (as an exception for Debussy) very limited pedal use.Template:Citation needed It is very delicate music, evocative of girls playing with their dolls.

The Snow is Dancing

Technically, this piece is quite difficult as it requires precise staccato playing in both hands, which is meanwhile accompanied by delicate voicing. This is a somewhat sad piece as it is written in D minor and contains rather 'doubting' harmonies.

The Little Shepherd

This is a witty piece in a pastorale style. It contains very colourful harmonies, and alternates between monophony and polyphony.

Golliwogg's Cakewalk

The middle section of this cakewalk is interrupted on several occasions by quotations of the opening of Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde, marked avec une grande émotion (with great feeling). Each quotation is followed by a sort of musical chuckle in staccato chords:

Image:Tristan quote in Children's Corner.png

Additional information

Children's Corner was published by Durand in 1908, and was given its world première in Paris by Harold Bauer on December 18 of that year. In 1911 an orchestration of the work by André Caplet received its première (on March 25) and was subsequently published.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Children's Corner" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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