Whimsical and melancholic, dreamy and sarcastic, Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano was composed in 1915 as he looked out over the sea from Normandy. He considered titling it, Pierrot mad with the moon. The cello takes very much the lion-share of the spotlight, with Debussy writing on the score, “The pianist must never forget that he mustn’t fight with the cello but accompany it.” There’s a similar atmosphere to the Sonata for violin and piano, written two years later in Arcachon, a few months before his death. Its three movements begin with an Allegro vivo, then move through a “whimsical and light” Interlude, to a surprise-filled Finale that Debussy described as, “A simple game of an idea turning upon itself, like a snake biting its own tail.”
It was in homage to Debussy, who died in 1918, that Ravel wrote his Sonata for violin and cello. A stylistic turning point in his writing, he himself described its music as being “stripped to the bone,” and with “an increasing return of emphasis on melody.”
Fauré’s Trio for piano, violin and cello in D minor dates from the same period. A masterstroke by a composer then in his seventy-seven, it was an immediate success at its premiere and remains one of the inter-war period’s most important pieces of chamber music.