On this day in classical music: Claude Debussy’s “The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastien” was given its premiere in Paris in 1911. The five-act mystery play, scored for orchestra, chorus and solo vocal parts, was not a success but an orchestral suite of symphonic fragments are occasionally heard. Listen to San Francisco Symphony Orchestra music director Michael Tilson Thomas discuss Debussy’s score. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDoTE8g4oG4
On this day in the musical theatre: There’s a widely accepted notion in the musical theater that sequels don’t work. One can cite numerous failures, including “Bring Back Birdie” and “Annie Warbucks.” Despite such track records, creators Larry L. King, Peter Masterson and Carole Hall thought a sequel to their successful “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” would be a good idea. Two weeks after the premiere of “The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public,” the show unceremoniously disappeared.
Musical musings: “Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien” is one of those pieces primarily familiar to us by its title alone. It contains some of Debussy’s most haunting and expressive music and points toward the sparer simplicity of Debussy’s final works such as the three chamber sonatas, “La boite a joujoux” and “Jeux.” Like them, it is variously influenced by folk song, medieval ballad, Renaissance polyphony and Asiatic music, all under the looming shadow of Wagner. “Le Martyre” is like the fragments of an ancient gospel. Some sections of the story are realized in complete detail, others are barely touched on, others not there at all. There is genuine passion in these pieces. Profound in spirit, sometimes enigmatic in their beginnings and endings, they have a musical and spiritual unity that is unique. – Michael Tilson Thomas