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Debussy was a very talented composer & performer. He was at times quite capable of creating beautiful music. In evidence are his shorter piano pieces (including, as mentioned, "Claire de Lune") as well as some of his preludes for solo piano. Some of his orchestal work is quite brilliant but not always convincing from the perspective of melodic/thematic construction, structural form & (especially) harmonic content.

Even though he was said to have "chaffed" at the label "Impressionism" musically, it is all too easy to place him in that category (especially since he was highly influenced by Faure). Many times he seems more concerned with "orchestral color", texture, timbre, etc. at the expense of substance. Examples include "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" & "La Mer". As I said in a paper I did for a Music History class, "Faure & Debussy both wrote good music, but often they did so only eight or sixteen measures at a time and buried it in their compositions between vast sections of strange miasma".

Which is to say there is not always a great deal of integration in their works. Integration of all characterists of the components is a virtue in any art form & music is no exception.

When you listen to an extended piece, such as "La Mer", for example, you will hear a brief, beautiful melodic fragment surrounded by extended, fragile harmonies. This will go on for about 8 to 16 measures & then the entire idea will disappear. It will be replaced by another interesting idea that might be somewhat related to the last idea; or it might not be related at all. If an idea (a melodic fragment, statement, theme, motif, etc.) does resurface it will do so in some unbalanced manner; in other words, Debussy was consciously avoiding any "historically accepted" notion of standard form. Sometimes this works to his advantage & you get to hear something beautiful & unexpected; other times it merely leaves the listener confused. A great deal of this probably depends upon the individual listeners aesthetic sensibilities.

While Debussy was said to have been a "great harmonic innovator" I personally think Liszt was far better practitioner of advanced & extended harmonic structures.

While Debussy did not actually disregard tonality, he frequently "bent the rules" to the point where his "chord progressions" weren't really progressions (i.e. goal-directed entities) but rather static sturctures of remotely-related chords strung together in order to create "an interesting effect". Again, Liszt was a genius at advanced harmony, but, never sacrificed goal-directed structures in the process. I have been told by some musicians (some academics...) I am inaccurate in my "harsh" criticism/analysis of Debussy's harmonic approach. So, straight from the horse's mouth...

from http://www.claude-debussy.com

Impressionists, especially Debussy, regarded chords as entities in their own right, intended to arouse a sensation apart from any context. Impressionism released the chord from its function in regard to the movement and goal of the music. Chords could be freely altered. Chords no longer required preparation or resolution in conventional harmonic patterns. Writers describe this as the "emancipation of sound." Harmonic patterns were free to move in nontraditional manners. This blurring of traditional tonal progressions may be analogous to the Impressionist painters' technique of avoiding hard edges and sudden, sharp contrasts.

This is, in fact, an accurate description of Debussy's approach. Some of his works were more logically sturctured than others, though. So, it's often hit or miss as to whether or not any given piece is something I will enjoy.

Christopher Schlegel

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You are welcome, I am glad to have helped.

Please keep in mind, even though I have criticized, I do regard a small amount of Debussy's music as quite beautiful; in particular some of his piano solo works (Preludes, Images & Arabesques). Perhaps because these works were smaller in nature they required a taunter, stricter, more purposeful structuring.

In any event, if you like "Claire de Lune", you might also appreciate some of these other works.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Cortege from Debussy's "Petit Suite" is also ravishing!

The original is for piano solo; I believe some other composer orchestrated it.

I first heard it late one night, 35 years ago, from an FM station, but they didn't announce the composer. I wrote to them, begging to know, but was told all their music was shipped to them "canned," and they hadn't a clue! It wasn't till several years later that I learned its identity ... I had to wait even longer, 20 years, before I learned the name of another great (but uncommon) piece I heard from them: the March from Bizet's "Fair Maid of Perth."

(I know I've wandered off-topic. But I can't resist!) Many years ago at Purdue University, I went to our campus radio station, and fortunately the announcer there was able to identify the two pieces of theme music I asked about: Dukas' Fanfare to precede the ballet "La Peri," and Gabriel Faure's Sicilienne from "Pelleas and Mellisande" ...

Which leads me to:

Do you know what theme music was used, in the early 1960's, for the "Ayn Rand on Campus" programs originating at Columbia University? Miss Rand selected them herself. They were:

Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, the very beginning of the 2nd movement; and

Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 3, the very beginning of the 3rd movement.

Many of these radio programs are sold by the Ayn Rand Bookstore (though I believe without the theme music).

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