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Debussy and Impressionism

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Abby Reed

on 26 November 2012

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Transcript of Debussy and Impressionism

Debussy and Impressionism Claude Debussy Early life Literary In the 1890's, Debussy drew inspiration heavily from the Symbolist Movement Impressionism “ Impressionism is at the root of all modern art, because it was the first movement that managed to free itself from preconceived ideas, and because it changed not only the way life was depicted but the way life was seen”
– Franceso Salvi "Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you." Claude Monet Art Movement started in Paris
Marks the beginning of and known as the best movement within the "Modernist movement"
In reaction to traditional art and strict Rule   French composer Claude Debussy is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in the Impressionist Era and in all of European music at the turn of the twentieth century. Debussy is considered the founder and leading exponent of musical Impressionism. 1862-1918 Born in Saint Germain en Laye in 1862 at the age of 11 he was accepted into the venerable, rigorous, tradition-bound Paris Conservatory In his teens, he worked as a pianist for a wealthy Russian family. 1884, he won the Prix de Rome for his piece L'Enfant Prodigue (The Prodigal Son) The method of Symbolism, wrote Mallarmé, was “to evoke in a deliberate shadow the unmentioned object by allusive words.” He was well aware of the revolutionary French painters of the time, who had been condemned by critics as "Impressionists" Visual Exotic Paris Exposition of 1889, where he was entranced by the playing of Javanese gamelan. Wagner Wagner: Debussy first embraced and then rejected his musical style, but never entirely escaped it "Don't you see that Wagner with all his formidable powers--yes, in spite of his power--has led music astray into sterile and pernicious paths?" From all those influences: musical, visual, and literary, and guided by his extraordinarily acute ear, Debussy slowly fashioned his revolutionary musical language. Poèmes de Baudelaire
Ariettes oubliées on poems of Verlaine Later Life and Music "As Claude Debussy is no longer making music, he no longer has any reason to exist. I haven't any hobbies; the only thing they taught me was music." 19th Century Art and Le Salon What the salon looked for:
Color: deep rich colors and dark shaddows
Nature: Primarily a backdrop
Composition: theatrical focused on a central action or group of figures
Brushwork: smooth and carefully finished. Intended to hide all traces of artist's brush work "Nymphs and Satyr"
William Bougurereau
1825-1905 Elements of Impressionist Art Themes: everyday scenes
Composition: experimented with composition- framing or cropping their subjects in ways that were to be found shocking by the prevailing art world
Nature: a worthy subject on its own, landscapes became more prominent
Color: Bright vibrant light colors
Brushwork: Quick, spontaneous brush strokes, not concerned about the finish Berthe Morisot
"summer's Day" 1879 Impressionist Artists Edgar Degas CLaude Monet Alfred Sisley Pierre-Auguste Renior Vincent
Impression Sunrise
1872 impressionist sculptures Auguste Rodin
"The Thinker" -Began and was developed during the late 19th-early 20th centuries

-In art: a style of painting characterized mainly by short brush strokes of bright colors in immediate juxtaposition to represent the effect of light on objects

-In music: a style of musical composition in which lush harmonies, subtle rhythms and unusual tonal colors are used to evoke moods and impressions

-Debussy is considered to be the leader of this movement, although he did not like the term “Impressionist” to be applied to his music.

-Originated in France, and eventually spread to England, Italy, and the United States Debussy’s Musical Style Debussy’s career can be divided into three periods:

First Period (ends around 1894): not particularly impressionistic, use of clear melodies, fairly tonal harmony
String Quartet in G minor – classical genre

Second Period: Impressionistic (1894-1912)

Third Period: (1912-1918) – works become less impressionistic Debussy’s Musical Innovations -Used a variety of scales other than the usual major/minor: whole-tone, chromatic, pentatonic (used also in Chinese music)

-Ambiguous tonal center: very often not clear what key a piece is in

-Non-metrical rhythms

-Emphasized melody over harmonic progression: the direction in which the music is heading is often unclear

-Unexpected chords
7th, 9th ,11th, augmented chords


-Move away from typical forms (ex. ABA)

-Medieval modes such as the Phrygian mode, Use of the ostinato - hadn't been seen since the Baroque era: looking back to past styles of music while incorporating his own new devices Orchestral Works Prelude à l’Après-Midi d’un faune (1894)
-Considered to be his first “Impressionistic” composition – contains many impressionistic techniques
-symphonic poem: based on a poem of the same name by Stéphane Mellarmé
-different orchestration: many solo phrases for different instruments

La Mer – “The Sea” (1903-05)
-not intended to be program music: meant to evoke a scene in the mind of the listener without telling an entire story
-characteristic of impressionistic music as a whole: focus on a state of being rather than a story Opera -Debussy composed just one opera in full, Pelléas et Mélisande, from 1893 to 1902
-Different from any other opera that had been composed at that point; was viewed specifically as a reaction to Wagner and his operas
-While the plot is dramatic – a tragedy about a love triangle, the music itself is fairly subtle and understated
-Reduced role of the orchestra
-Much of the singing is done in a recitative style, with no clear meter – similar to speech, emphasized the beauty and sensuality of the French language Compositions for Piano -Debussy also composed many relatively short pieces for solo piano, comparable to the "miniature" genre of the Romantic era.
-"Estampes" (1903)
-Two books of "Images" (1905)
-Two books of "Préludes" (1909, 1913) "La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin" - "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair" By 1905, Debussy was world-famous. sea-symphony: La Mer
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune During 1910s, he wrote a good deal for the piano. After 1910, Debussy retired into near seclusion. Claude Debussy died on March 25, 1918. Last work:
Sonata for Violin and Piano Other Impressionist Composers -Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

-Charlies Griffes (1884-1920)

-André Caplet (1878-1925)
-orchestrated many works by Debussy Ravel Griffes Caplet
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