Last Updated 27 Jan 2021

Claude Debussy

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Claude Debussy: The Father of Impressionism Claude Debussy was among one of the most popular twentieth century composers of his time. He is known for his famous “Clair De Lune” and “La Mer”. This impacted the 20th century music genre with his difficult impressionist technique. He was among the few to be influenced by symbolist poets and impressionist painters, which resulted in true originality. He was the founder of Musical Impressionism, and impacted numerous composers such as Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Pierre’ Boulez. On August 22nd 1862, Claude-Anchille Debussy was born.

He was born in Saint-Germain-en Laye, France. His father owned a shop where he sold china and his mother was a seamstress. He began to take piano lessons when they moved to Paris at age seven with an older Italian violinist named Certutti. His aunt kindly paid for them. His talent started to become noticeable, that in 1872 he entered the Paris Conservatoire and studied there for eleven years. While he was there he studied Composition, Music theory and history, Harmony, piano as well as organ and solfege. He started to favor dissonance and intervals that were not favored during this time.

He was a brilliant pianist and a exceptional sight reader. Starting in the summer of 1880, he accompanied Pytor IllyichTchaikovsky where they traveled throughout Europe. He became the winner of the Prix de Rome in 1884 with his composition L’enfant prodigue. He then received a scholarship to Academie des Beaux-Arts which they provided a four year residence at the Villa Medici at the French Academy in Rome to further his studies into 1887. He composed four pieces that year that were sent to the academy. He then became interested with the Wagnerian Opera, which had a lasting impact on his work.

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He later died in 1918 of cancer. "I am trying to do 'something different' in a way reality, what the imbeciles call 'impressionism' is a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by art critics. "(Debussy) Debussy was the father of impressionism. Impressionism was an early twentieth style of musical composition, which involved flourishing harmonies, clever rhythms and unusual wavering tones. It originated in France where Debussy was born and lived. It was about an atmosphere about music more than the emotion that is expected from music or a story like program music.

It was all about shaping new sound effects. These effects included long atypical chords, fast moving sounds when it came to piano dynamics, bitonality, and developing interesting timbres of an instrument specific articulation. Impressionism was mainly focused on Dynamics and Instrumentation. It was created to draw impressions not to necessarily to draw a clear picture. It was designed to create a mood or an atmosphere. The use of Harmony was a big part of Impressionism. An example of Debussy’s work would be “L’isle Joyeuse” which was influenced by the painting by Jean Watteau.

It has no harmonic purpose and sometimes the melody is everywhere, which means there is no steady beat. The piece, in a way does what it wants without following any rules. This was a major part of Impressionism. An example of Claude Debussy’s work that shows the style of Impressionism is “La Clair De Lune”. It was composed in 1888 and is the third movement of the “Suite Bergamasque”. “The choice of compound triple meter for this movement shows the contrast to the dance movements and helps allow Debussy freedom to articulate the music differently.

In addition, Clair de Lune is compositionally, the most adventurous piece of the suite. The positioning within the suite is important; it is the suite’s third movement, and is the lyrical climax of the suite. The use of structure and proportion within the movement is significant; Most important of all, they show ways in which the forms are used to project the music’s dramatic and expressive qualities with maximum precision”(Howat 1). It’s original name was “Promenade Sentimentale”. It was not published until 1905. It was inspired by Paul Verlaine's poems and was influenced by Verlaine's earliest collections.

The name means moon-shine or moon light and is the name of one of Verlain's poems. Another example of Debussy’s work of Impressionism is “La Mer”. Debussy composed it in 1903 and it was completed in 1905. He then premiered it that same year with The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Debussy’s influence came from the painter J. M. W. Turner. They both had intertwining interests with the sea. With the rich melodic lines, to the rhythmic regularity, and the use of harmonic progressions helped create the sound of the waves Debussy was looking for. “We must agree,” Debussy writes, “that the beauty of a work of art will lways remain a mystery, in other words, we can never be absolutely sure how it is made”(Trezise 102). In my opinion, these were his best works because of how irregular his melodies are and how he harmonizes in each piece. His use of harmonies creates an atonal sound so that the chords do not sound nice or match together. He creates this “dream like” sequence that takes you off into another world. It is almost like you are sleeping, and dreaming at the same time in both pieces. In “La Clair De Lune”, it is more like a dream sequence that gives you the harmonies that are irregular.

It also has no specific melody so it could possibly have no end. Both pieces are great examples of Impressionism and Debussy really knew how to make it happen. Claude Debussy was the father of Impressionism and truly changed the way someone can analyze music. He created a new movement in music that inspired other twentieth century composers to follow in his footsteps. With his pentatonic scale, and his use of atonality, Debussy shaped what was the era of new music. Without his interest in creating new things, today we would not have the fluence from him on impressionism.

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Claude Debussy. (2017, Feb 05). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/claude-debussy/

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