In 1897, Claude Debussy composed three songs for female voice and piano and dedicated them to the writer André Gide. The texts were based on prose poems by Pierre Louÿs from a collection titled Les Chansons de Bilitis. Notable for their sensuality and beguiling mild eroticism, the three songs were first performed in public by singer Blanche Marot at a Société Nationale de Musique concert on March 17, 1900, with Debussy at the piano.



Biilitis was a fictional Greek courtesan who lived in the sixth century BC. In the Louÿs poems, she reflects on the events of her life. Claude Debussy set to music three poems that describe intimate encounters between Biilitis and the shepherd boy Lykas, her first lover.



Performance

In 2008, the Gardner Museum in Boston presented a performance of Trois Chansons de Bilitis by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and pianist Pei-Yao Wang. A recording of this fine performance was made available in episode 57 of the podcast “The Concert”.


1. La flûte de Pan

Bilitis describes how Lykas teaches her to play the syrinx, or pan flute.
French English

2. La chevelure

Bilitis relates an erotic dream that Lykas described to her.
French English

3. Le tombeau des Naïades

The pastoral atmosphere is shattered. Languor has given way to feelings of loss.
French English


Artists

Two-time Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke has been called a “luminous standout” (New York Times) and “equal parts poise, radiance and elegant directness” (Opera News). Ms. Cooke is sought after by the world’s leading orchestras, opera companies, and chamber music ensembles for her versatile repertoire and commitment to new music.


Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Pei-Yao Wang was the youngest pianist ever to receive the overall First Prize in the Taiwan National Piano Competition, at the age of eight. Four years later, she was invited to study at The Curtis Institute of Music, where she worked with Seymour Lipkin and Institute Director Gary Graffman. She then studied with Claude Frank at Yale University, where she received the Master of Music degree, and also pursued a concentration in architecture. She has performed throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia, including venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and Suntory Hall. She is currently a member of Chamber Music Society Two at Lincoln Center, a program to promote emerging artists.