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MusicPart of Humanities

Building a Library with David Owen Norris

Published: 1 March 2010

Professor David Owen Norris's latest Building a Library for BBC Radio 3's CD Review, broadcast on 20 February, was on Debussy's Suite bergamasque.

His top pick was Daniel Ericourt, who was a friend of the Debussy family: as a child prodigy he played a two-piano recital with the composer, and turned his pages for the premiere of the Cello Sonata. In the 1920s Ericourt toured with Georges Enesco and Isadora Duncan, before moving to America, where he ended up as Artist-in-Residence at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Music. Ericourt recorded Debussy's Complete Piano Works in New York for Kapp in the 1960s. The set was reissued on CD in 2003 by the University of North Carolina as a centenary tribute.

The task of comparing all available versions of Clair de Lune was lightened by some pleasant personal connections. Some of the pianists had studied with Norris's Parisian piano teacher, the redoubtable Yvonne Lefebure. The energy she displayed in performance was so great that extra large hat pins were required to secure her hat. Others had been colleagues of Norris's long-time singing partner, David Wilson-Johnson, with Boulez at IRCAM.

There was the usual lively feedback from the broadcast. The most interesting reaction was a phone call from Paul Myers, who was in charge at the Decca label in the 1980s. He had known Ericourt well, and those Debussy recordings were one of the first things he had produced. He was full of marvellous stories, and he was confident that Norris would be pleased with one in particular. Walter Gieseking had been rather heavily criticised during the broadcast. Myers handed on the information from Ericourt that Debussy's widow, who continued to preside over an important salon in Paris after her husband's death, welcomed every pianist but one - Walter Gieseking, on whom she laid an absolute ban.

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