Impressionism In Claude Debussy

2500 Words5 Pages

Near the close of the nineteenth century, a new movement had emerged in European classical music. Rooted most heavily in France and lasting till the mid twentieth century, Europe witnessed what we call 'Impressionism', an idea of music described wonderfully by Oscar Thompson in 1937 as he states that the aim of such art was to "suggest rather than to depict; to mirror not the object, but the emotional response to the object; to interpret a fugitive impression rather than to seize upon and fix the permanent reality." Impressionism thus, in its most basic definition, is the converse of realism.A rather prominent characteristic of Impressionist music was the striking predominance of modal and exotic scales, free rhythm, unresolved dissonances and the evidently smaller programmatic form. Apart from this, Impressionist music is more broadly characterized by a dramatic use of both the minor and major scale systems. Claude Debussy is known as one of the greatest Impressionist composers till date. Many musical critics believe that the Impressionist movement was a liberating intrusion in the otherwise fixated notions of Western classical music. However, Impressionism too came with a set of restrictions, incapacities and difficulties, those of which will be discussed further in the essay in relation to their influence on Debussy's composition. Born on August 27th, 1862, Claude Debussy came from an ancestral background comprising of shopkeepers, suburban employees and peasants, none of which had any musical talent or affiliation. Much unlike a majority of composers known during the Classical and Romantic eras such as Mozart or Rachmaninoff, not only did he possess no musical family background, he also had had no extensive musical training... ... middle of paper ... ...s and syncopation. Though a passepied is traditionally written in triple meter, Debussy employs an interesting choice of meter throughout his piece that deviates from the norm of such a form. Modal chords give it a rather moto perpetuo feel, meaning a fast tempo and a steady, continuous stream of notes. Present in almost every measure is a crisp staccato accompaniment under which the melody provides us with two themes: the acicular introductory theme and the more graceful second theme. Throughout the course of this final piece, the second theme is heavily varied, oscillating between duple and triple meter and containing multiple inversions. The piece ends beautifully with a cascade of eighth notes as Debussy plays with the modal conflict of F-sharp and B. We also encounter a flurry of pianississimo chords which finally end with an array of sporadic staccato chords.

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that europe witnessed what we call 'impressionism', an idea of music described wonderfully by oscar thompson in 1937.
  • Explains that claude debussy came from an ancestral background of shopkeepers, suburban employees, and peasants, none of which had any musical talent or affiliation.
Show More
Open Document