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Thread: Claude Debussy

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    Senior Member Ephemerid's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Claude Debussy

    When I was a teenager I first discovered Debussy and opened my ears to a whole new way of listening to music... I'm not even sure what prompted me to purchase some bargain cassette of Debussy's Nocturnes (side 2 had Ravel's Bolero which was another lovely surprise to my budding ears).

    Whether its orchestral music, music for piano or chamber music, what is always so striking to me about Debussy is that it is such colourful music, which of course is also in part to his unusual harmonic language-- where chords sometimes cease to be "functional" but are there strictly for the sound-- there is something very sensual and even erotic I find in Debussy's music.

    Back in the summer of 2006, I went on a big Debussy spending spree (I do these obsessive things from time to time LOL) and bought up at least one good recording of each of his major compositions, as well as a few not-so-well known ones. But it took me till then to listen to his one opera, Pelleas et Melisande, which totally blew me away! I am not a big opera listener, but this was an emotionally overwhelming experience for me (I went on for a couple weeks listening only to Pelleas).

    If you intend on seriously getting into Debussy, the following are ESSENTIAL compositions:

    Orchestral:
    The Afternoon of the Faun (this piece never ceases to amaze me)
    Nocturnes
    La Mer
    Images
    Jeux
    Symphonic Sketches from The Martyrdom of St. Sebastien
    Danse sacree et profane for harp and strings
    And Claudio Abbado has done a concert suite from Pelleas et Melisande which is good as well

    Piano:
    The Preludes (one of the greatest works of the 20th century for piano)
    Suite Bergamasque (especially for the lovely Clair de lune)
    Estampes
    Children's Corner

    Reverie
    Deux Arabasques


    Chamber music:
    String Quartet
    Syrinx (a short piece for solo flute)
    Sonata for cello and piano
    Sonata for flute, viola and harp
    Sonata for violin and piano


    Choral/vocal:
    La Damoiselle elue (for soprano, chorus & orchestra)
    The Martyrdom of St. Sebastien (a dramatic work for soloists, chorus & orchestra)

    Opera:
    Pelleas et Melisande


    And I'd recommend watching DG's DVD of the opera as well, with Boulez conducting.
    "There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law.” ~ Claude Debussy

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    Debussy is one of my favourite composers. The colours he achieves in both his orchestral works and pieces for solo piano are just remarkable.
    I was turned onto classical music by a friend of mine who works as a professor. His favourite composer was Debussy, and he showed me La Mer. From there I was hooked.
    On your recommendation i purchased the Zimerman recording of Debussy's Preludes. It is one of my most enjoyable recordings now, and actually may have just got me through this last week of exams.

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    Senior Member Ephemerid's Avatar
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    Thumbs up

    Quote Originally Posted by EricIsAPolarBear View Post
    On your recommendation i purchased the Zimerman recording of Debussy's Preludes. It is one of my most enjoyable recordings now, and actually may have just got me through this last week of exams.
    I'm so glad you've been enjoying it, Eric!
    "There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law.” ~ Claude Debussy

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    Senior Member Rachovsky's Avatar
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    The minute amount of compositions I have heard by him have been boring.

    I learned the first section of Goliwogg's Cakewalk in the Children's Corner. It was nice. I liked the bass rhythm.

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    Senior Member Frasier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rachovsky View Post
    The minute amount of compositions I have heard by him have been boring.

    I learned the first section of Goliwogg's Cakewalk in the Children's Corner. It was nice. I liked the bass rhythm.
    A couple of points here:

    1) Debussy's music developed in subtle ways across his unfortunately short career. The Wagnerian influences evident in La Damoiselle gave way to what one might term "original" Debussy in L'Apres-midi d'un Faun. But his denial of traditional forms in favour of his own led to a situation where every work (or set of works, eg the Preludes Book 1) had (essentially) a different form. So you possibly do yourself an injustice pronouncing on just a "minute amount".

    2) While Debussy is easily approachable these days, his work may not appeal to listeners tied to traditional classical forms. He had no time for such forms nor the harmonies, the progressions etc, that accompanied them. It's easier for a classical musician tied to regular pulses and cadential phrases to appreciate popular music that essentially follows the same "form" (many pop songs can be fitted to the "rondo" form) than Debussy with his irregular phrases; his way of forming melodies from motives and the way they evolved into a form often peculiar to a particular work.

    So he may not appeal to you at all!

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    The Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faun is amazing! I absolutely love the "Sirens" movement of the Nocturnes (though I've not really listened to the others); I never thought that a whole TEN MINUTES had gone by until I'd looked at the timer on my MP3 player. I'm convinced that Debussy did that on purpose.

    La Mer is the pinnacle of orchestral music in my mind. I've not heard Pelleas et Melisande, but I will try to get the DVD with Boulez conducting.
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    Senior Member Edward Elgar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rachovsky View Post
    The minute amount of compositions I have heard by him have been boring.
    I find Debussy akin to Ravel in the sense that his genius is misrepresented in popular classics - just listen to more interesting compositions of his like the cello sonata and you're going to love the man!
    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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    Junior Member Pianoforte's Avatar
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    I can't get enough of Debussy's piano works. His free flowing and unpredictable structures are in complete contrast to the rigid, uniform style of say...Mozart. I listen to piano works by Mozart, Chopin and Debussy a lot and when I spontaniously create something of my own that combines their styles exhileration is an understatement.

    His works exudes a laid-back almost accepting emotion the French are renowned for. I can't think of any other composer who has produced music so influenced by their national identity than Debussy.

    In a smiliar vein to the film The Mask where a blind girl visualises colours by holding objects of different textures I think you could make someone who has never visited France 'feel' like they have just by listening to Debussy.

    "C'est la vie"


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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    I'm studying French in school... and Debussy just fits into it seamlessly. The flowing, sensual nature of all of his music is just like the language itself, and the lack of "traditional" climax (of course, an overload of the senses is not generally "traditional" to me) is perfection in itself. Everything is loose, uncontrolled (rather; control is not needed), melodies flowing into and out of each other as effortlessly as water: the music is water. All these things about Smetana's Moldau being the best representation of a flowing river... Debussy shames him easily!
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    Junior Member Pianoforte's Avatar
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    I think his style is so distinct and innovative he should have a form attributed to him.

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pianoforte View Post
    I think his style is so distinct and innovative he should have a form attributed to him.
    Only problem with that is that he's the only one that's really used that style really well...
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    Member fox_druid's Avatar
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    I really love Debussy's work. He's the only non-baroque composer I like!
    His beauty lies on the unique harmony, the pentatonic-like tune and the calming atmosphere of his song such as the sunken cathedral.

    My first encounter with Debussy was his vocal work, Fetes Gallantes no. 2, En Soundie - Clair de Lune - Fantoche
    It's amazing how he turned the dissonance into harmony!

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    Senior Member confuoco's Avatar
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    I highly admire this composer like maybe the most innovative, original and unprecedentable (I am not sure if this word exists in English :-) ) composer in the history of music. He changed course of everything he touched - piano, chamber and also orchestral music. His work is qualitative equal. I don't know any bad piece composed by him.

    I like his extremely reachful harmonic language. His works are exceptionaly well balanced, proportional, with high level of aesthetics and fancy.

    My favourite works:

    Piano
    Arabesques
    Petite Suite
    Suite bergamesque
    L'Isle Joyeuse
    Preludes

    Chamber
    String quartet
    Cello Sonata
    Beau Soir

    Orchestral
    Fantasy for piano and orchestra
    Rhapsody for clarinet and orchestra
    Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
    Nocturnes
    La Mer
    Jeux

    and of course Pelleas et Melisande...the most beautiful opera ever

    but the most beloved for me is Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
    Last edited by confuoco; May-24-2008 at 00:03.

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    Senior Member PostMinimalist's Avatar
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    I love Debussy too. I even orchestrated the whole of the first book of Preludes for string orchestra! I am hoping that the London Chamber Orchestra will include them in one of their 'South Bank' series of concerts next year!

    I find his method of composing for orchestra very interesting. It seems like he wakes up in the morning and asks himself what 'color' will I write today and then painstakingly composes 4 or 8 bars in that color and then stops. This goes on for a few weeks ant then the piece is finished.

    I'm not sure how much he even cares about melodic content when writing like this, just color (or at least color first then everything else like harmony melody dynamic change etc.) His works become very 'terraced' but they somehow have a cohesion despite this constant changing.

    For example (more for the musically literate now and I'm sorry for making the distinction but I will get technical here) in Gigues (first part of Images) it would seem logical to me that he wrote up to the double bar line after figure 1 in one sitting, or at least in one conscious chunk, and then the 'Un peu plus allant' in another single sitting. From figure 3 onwards, where the orchestration gets thicker and more complicated the 'bars-per-day' fall to about 4 or 8. Certainly every four bars from 3 changes color and if I am to judge by my own rate of work (I am a professional orchestrator and composer), the amount of detail and the fact that he was writing in pen, I would guess that these 4bar chunks represent a days (or a mornings or afternoons) work. It is easy to imagine Claude D. getting up and debating over his croissant and coffee which orchestral color he would write that day, rather than whistling the (sorry Claude) quite banal 'Schottiche' melody (in the section from figure 3 right up to just after fig. 12.) to his wife over the breakfast table!

    Does any one have any opinions about this or even know if this is the case or not. I'd love to know if my theory was true.
    Fergus

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    Senior Member confuoco's Avatar
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    Warning! I think your idea is quite romantic. About 1909 Debussy detected first symtomps of cancer...next season of life was very difficult to him. He partially lost enthusiasm for composing, that's why he entrusted André Caplet with orchestration (or finnishing of orchestration) of Gigues (originally composed by Debussy for two pianos). Up to this day isn´t definite, what from orchestration of Images is work of Debussy and what is work of Caplet.

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