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Thread: Claude Debussy

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    Senior Member PostMinimalist's Avatar
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    Thanks for that information. Perhaps then, Caplet worked in the manner I suggested. But looking at 'La Mer' which is all Debussy's work, there is still the same structural trait. A 'blocking off' into chunks of orchestral tone color. Again those chunks seem to be about a days work for a professional composer, so maybe there is still something here. Take for example the 6/8 section which begins at bar 31; firstly four bars, then six bars with a strange French Horn melody, then 2 bars of ww and tremolando violins swell. This takes us to figure 4 in the score where more color change takes place in 4 bar chunks. It goes on and on. Do you know any thing about how he wrote? I know that Brahms wrote orchestral scores a bar or so at a time in full orchestration, so could the Debussy chunking effect which I describe be a result of this?

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    Senior Member Frasier's Avatar
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    Being fairly acquainted with Debussy's scores (in particular La Mer, Ibéria, Les Nocturnes and Jeux) and also being a composer highly attuned to Debussy, I'd say that he worked in no consistent way. My belief is that he dreamed up most of his music before ever committing it to paper, would often work in 4-stave short score (although he was composing orchestrally, so to speak) - plenty of evidence for that. But little can be found among his letters and comments about his modus operandi, so we'll never know exactly how he worked. We know he was threatened over deadlines; would neglect compositions to finish later and so on. But he seems averse to talking about his own musical methods

    His lifestyle impinged on his composing: He liked women, socialising, the Paris cafes, he smoked a little opium had no time for the musical orthodoxy. About the only time he "obeyed the academic rules" was to get to Rome because he knew he had to. As for his evolution of form, unique to him of course, and as far as I can see, unique to each composition (major compositions, at least), that seems to evolve from his use of "Melody" in individual works. I use the word melody with great caution because, apart from a few Franckian melodies that appear in various pieces, La Mer, notably, his thematic material is derived from motifs that develop into new motifs, etc. Hence he rarely repeats anything, never does without some change creeping into the harmony or instrumentation. Jeux best illustrates this but it's visible in La Mer, in fact most of his work.

    So if I had to conclude at all, I'd hypothesise a general approach: he composed in his mind, carrying things as far forward as he wanted to, then wrote things down mostly as a matter of clerical procedure when he had time, perhaps at a keyboard; and which might have been completed in logical chunks, maybe not. I dare say, like all composers, he experimented at the piano to try things out, to discover etc. and perhaps when he got to the writing down stage. Maybe he did compose a few things that way.

    Incidentally, I've never approved of anyone orchestrating his piano music - his preludes specially - simply because 1) if he wanted them orchestral, he'd have written them orchestrally; 2 - more important - many of the preludes depend on the timbre and colour of the piano alone for their effect. It's impossible to imagine "Brouillards" from Book 2 to ever be for anything than piano. Same with Des Pas sur la Neige - or for that matter, La Fille. Sure, people can orchestrate these things but in doing so, they turn them into different works.

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    Senior Member PostMinimalist's Avatar
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    Thank you for that insight, Frasier. I know how hard it was to not destroy the Preludes while orchestrating them. I went to great lengths to 'translate' pianistic effects into string effects and maintaining the overall atmosphere of each piece (in case you're in any doubt about my string writing I direct you to my recent CD with the London Chamber Orchestra, Music For Strings - http://www.myspace.com/fergcurrie ).
    Five of the Debussy set have been played play professional orchestras - Danseuses, Des Pas, La Fille, La Cathedrale and Minstrels with fine results. Of course they are 'different' from the originals but then apparently there is ahistory of Debussy orchestrating his own piano music (see mention of 'Iberia' earlier in this thread) so I don't feel too guilty! If you like I can send you a pdf of some of the score to examine. I did toy with the idea of doing the second book but as you say, in Bk.2 some things get too pianistic to be transported. And since I am an all or nothing kind of guy I decided to leave them alone. I am however looking at the Brahms Op. 118 piano pieces which I might do for wind ensemble (if I can get a commission!).

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    Junior Member marie's Avatar
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    I really love Debussy. I think that his music is very transparent and has a lot of colors that constantly change. I often think of reflections in water, waves, little rainbow in the air, and tropical fish swimming very quickly. Many of his pieces are very playful and full of joy.

    I have also always felt that his music has some Japanese taste, especially in his small piano pieces. Then I recently learned that he was influenced by Japonism. He was fascinated by Japanese prints. But I still cannot get why his music has a touch of Japanese music when perhaps it would have been very difficult for people in Western countries to have access to any Japanese music at that time.

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    Senior Member Lisztfreak's Avatar
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    Debussy is just perfect! Everyone till now has said how colourful his music is, and it's fascinating that so large a number of people can actually feel it. So all those pentatonics, modes and whole-tone scales are not just fancy spices. They do make his music his.

    Elgar mentioned the Cello Sonata. So short and yet so unforgettable. I could listen to it five times in a row without getting bored!

    Jeux - his bluest piece
    Prélude a l'apres-midi d'un faune - his greenest
    Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra - this one's burgundy, black, teal and dark gold

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    Senior Member Lisztfreak's Avatar
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    As for orchestrating the Préludes, I always thought La cathédrale engloutie would work brilliantly in an arrangement for organ and orchestra - perhaps just strings, double woodwind, timpani and celesta. In any case, the sound of the main theme on the organ is incredible. Especially if you add a low pedal C under the melody.

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    Haven't heard Debussy's Cello Sonata but his Violin Sonata is good too! Love how he paints pictures which you can imagine. La Mer is one of the best evocations of the sea, perhaps only matched by Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes.

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Habib View Post
    La Mer is one of the best evocations of the sea, perhaps only matched by Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes.
    I would add to that list Sibelius' Oceanides, but I'm totally with you here.
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    Yes, World Violist, I agree with you. I have heard Sibelius' Oceanides a number of times (have an LP of it with Beecham conducting the Royal Philharmonic). It's definitely on par with Debussy and Britten.

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    Where can I look up all of his work? I've just listened to "La fille aux cheveux de lin" and I'm still in awe.

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    Quote Originally Posted by huBelial View Post
    Where can I look up all of his work? I've just listened to "La fille aux cheveux de lin" and I'm still in awe.
    This site should help you:

    http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/cmp/debussy_works.html

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    People have hinted at it, but no one has mentioned how his music sounds more 'objective' and less emotional than that of the high Romantics. It's more concerned with the images & colours of nature, for example, than conveying an inner struggle. It's more about the 'here & now' of the 'real' world than the composer's psychological world. I think that this is important, as the movement we call Impressionism was a reaction against the sturm und drang of late Romanticism.

    Having said that, I'm not devaluing his music, just making a point. I also enjoy his music & agree with what everyone has said. Perhaps he made more psychological insights, and painted less pictures, in his only opera Pelleas et Melisande? I remember hearing it on the radio a long time ago, but I can't remember what it was like...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andre View Post
    People have hinted at it, but no one has mentioned how his music sounds more 'objective' and less emotional than that of the high Romantics. It's more concerned with the images & colours of nature, for example, than conveying an inner struggle. It's more about the 'here & now' of the 'real' world than the composer's psychological world. I think that this is important, as the movement we call Impressionism was a reaction against the sturm und drang of late Romanticism.

    Having said that, I'm not devaluing his music, just making a point. I also enjoy his music & agree with what everyone has said. Perhaps he made more psychological insights, and painted less pictures, in his only opera Pelleas et Melisande? I remember hearing it on the radio a long time ago, but I can't remember what it was like...
    Debussy's music wasn't Romantic. It was a counter reaction to that movement. He was truly about doing something radically different with music, and, needless to say, I believe he succeeded everybody's wildest expectations.

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    Senior Member Edward Elgar's Avatar
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    I find it interesing how Debussy was indeed radical, and yet his music was treated with much less hostility than Stravinsky or Schoenberg.

    Debussy's music is the musical equivalent of Monet and Stravinsky's music is the musical equivalent of Picasso. Both of these painters are equally appreciated as artists so why is this not the case with the composers? I suppose the eyes are the ears of our time. What we hear is relatively obsolete.

    I find the idea of Debussy and Ravel at the premier of The Rite of Spring jumping up and down screaming "GENIUS" hilarious!
    When all the paint has been dried, when all the stone has been carved, music shall remain, and we shall work with what remains.

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    If there was one thing I would criticize Debussy for it would be his lack of orchestration. My problem with this is he didn't really mind who orchestrated his pieces. For a composer as great as Debussy, I can't imagine him being so careless about the orchestration of his compositions.

    Ravel once said he would loved to have re-orchestrated "La Mer."

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