Thursday, 25 February 2010

Claude Debussy: Homage à S. Pickwick P.P.M.P.C.

I know that Debussy is not English! However, Mr. Samuel Pickwick most certainly is. I recently came across a YouTube recording of Pietro Rigacci playing Homage à S. Pickwick P.P.M.P.C. at a concert in Livorono on 28th August 2008.
The Prelude, which is No. 9 from Book 2, is a tribute to the great character from Charles Dickens’s The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. It was composed in 1913.

The title given by the composer includes the initials P.P.M.P.C. which are meant to stand for Perpetual Vice President- Member Pickwick Club. This club was created with “the purpose of investigating the source of the Hampstead Ponds.” However as Maurice Hinson rightly observes, English was not Debussy’s strong point as the initials are a little awry. A brief look at the introductory chapter of the book reveals that is was Joseph Smiggers, Esq., who was P.V.P.M.P.C. and Samuel Pickwick, Esq., G.C.M.P.C which stood for General Chairman--Member Pickwick Club.
The British National Anthem is heard in the depths as the piece opens, however the Prelude is not all Pomp – there is surely some descriptive Circumstances of a livelier nature here. The music well suggests, as Elie Robert Schmitz points out, Pickwick’s ‘genial good nature, absent minded at times, gay, engrossed in his own superiority.”

Alas, in spite of the importance of Dickens’s Pickwick Papers in the history of English literature, there seems to have been little music composed that reflects this popularity. Perhaps the one piece demands a performance is Joseph Holbrooke’s The Pickwick Club for string quartet.

Watch & listen to Debussy’s Prelude on YouTube

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