Debussy And His Piano Works Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

" This he maintained was the highest honor he could claim. " (Seroff, 1956, 113)

Some of the melodies that Claude Achille Debussy created for example the C'est l'Extase' -- based on the ninths and series of common chords has continuous modulations which are embedded with a lot of changing tones and may have been symbolic of a breeze and the sounds of small voices. Like wise the use of rhythmic characteristics and melody in 'Spleen' is like Chabrier the 'L'Ombre des Arbres' which modulates differently. This was at that time a very daring attempt in music during the 1880's. The performance of La Damoiselle Elue' by the Societe Nationale, was conducted by Gabriel Marie competed by the works of Paul Dukas - Overture to 'Polyeucte', Raymond Bonheur, 'Iris', and many by Paul Fournier; Ernest Chausson 'Poeme de l'Amour et de la Mer', Pierre de Breville 'Medeia', Henri Duparc 'Phidyle'. Played at that hall the La Damoiselle Elue', in which the solo parts were taken by Julia Robert and Therese Roger drew attention to what was hitherto seen only in print. The critic of the performance and the book that was later published was reviewed by Julien Tiersot and Charles Darcours, and Tiersot says that Claude Achille Debussy is lacking in principles of music -- "although his work gives evidence of a skill which is the result of deep and serious study." (Vallas, Leon; O'Brien, Marie; O'Brien, 1933, 201)

By 1894 Claude Debussy finished the symphony to Mallarme "Apres-midi d'un Faune." He had reduced it to the form of a simple 'Prelude', which was produced by the Societe Nationale and played in December 1894. It was then that the public came to know of the orchestral talents of which the audience was aware from the 'La Damoiselle elue', famous for being simultaneously vocal, choral, and instrumental. It was thus for the first time that the Societe Nationale allowed the general public to attend the concerts and this made the 'Petite chapelle' a temple of music. It was a composition that the public understood at the first hearing -- something that was not normally possible. The public made the conductor, Gustave Doret. This was later taken on by eminent musicians like Andre Messager and Edouard Colonne that placed it in their own programs of Vaudeville and Chatelet concerts. (Vallas, Leon; O'Brien, Marie; O'Brien, 1933, 80)

There is also the fact that Claude Achille Debussy made great changes to piano music. The innovator in Debussy- seen in the piano music and the audacities of harmony have been the subject of discussion and has thus proven to be a special style of writing that has not stuck to the conventional methods of modulation, resulting in a nearness or relation between distantly related keys, which has brought in a modern method of art, matter and style at one stroke. Thus Claude Achille Debussy was able to create a harmonic balance for the music that arose in his imagination -- thereby making the audiences to experience novel music. At the same time his piano music with the new piano techniques had a high lyrical quality -- a harmony that was far different from the general French which had a combination of austere and traditional view of composition. This uncanny genius for using an instrumental resource, in a novel way to create a lasting impression can be seen in Debussy's orchestral works which always consist of quartets or in the three sonatas. (Cortot, 1932, 10)

The Mystique:

Claude Achille Debussy's works can be compared with the works of contemporary novelists' poets, and painters and other composers who had a mutual influence on one another. His new harmony is also found described by some of his pupils who have also meticulously recorded his pedaling and fingering techniques....
...(Halford, 10)

Claude Achille Debussy had created an expanded Piano technique. His idea was to see to it that the audience never realized that the Piano was a percussion instrument and was generating music without hammers. Thus he trained people to play with lighter fingers called the slap touch wherein the key is abandoned mid way caressing or wiping the key creating a very resonant tone which is devoid of harshness, and the instructions from Debussy were that the hands must be held low, and fingers must crawl across the keys and the chords too must be played with the pressing motion than with force of weight. The phase has to be legato. The person who wishes to pursue Debussy's music must in effect remember these basics which he insisted that his pupils learn by way of handling the piano. (Halford, 10)

The pedal appears to be important but is kept confined to a particular method of use for the compositions of Claude Achille Debussy. Debussy's handling the pedal was what the musician Llizst called a 'breathing pedal. The pedal thus was a very much needed thing. The solution for the compositions therefore is half pedaling, that is after the damper pedal is fully depressed, the soft pedal is used with the foot having moved up and down once or twice raising the dampers fast thus bringing harmony while the soft pedals are used. The damper pedal can also be depressed to a good effect but always before playing the chord. Damper and soft pedals may be used together. (Halford, 11) This can be understood in detail by way of the figure 1 shown below:


Or this:

(Halford, 11)

The technicalities of the music are much more complicated than the concept itself. For example the composition of Claude Achille Debussy if technically discussed and explained is complicated, not only for the application of the notes and music but also with regard to the use of notes, the pedal and the way emotions and freedom is expressed by the player moving the left and right hand. The descending progress can be observed from C. To B. In measures 1-4 though it is insisted that this must be homogenous and even. This is a pattern in arabesque that can be found continuously repeating and the rhythm may appear at times not metric and in the four beats 1-2 and the arpeggio for 3-4-5 apexes of the melody does not adhere to the first beat. (Schmitz, 1966, 45)

This leads to the fact that the compositions do not allow the use of pedals just as in Bach in the case of these patterns. For example at 7# the appoggiatura D# must be stressed and the decrescendo must find a link to measure eight. Like wise in the 13-16 measures the stringendo and ritardando are slow, gradual and must not be broken. Thus during these phases a great player can use the pedal may also enhance the quality but only for these phases. For the measures 22-24 ritardando relates to the slow opening of the seventh chord phase, but must be regular with the tempo being resumed and contracted at the 23rd and through 26. The dormant harmony at the end of the phase is a natural G. (Schmitz, 1966, 45)

For the measures 29 to 46 there is more emotion involved as it abandons the earlier system to become swaying impulsive and tender. At this point the harmonic tensions must be at their proper value and the appoggiaturas must not be separated from the previous resolutions which must continue to be lightened while the appoggiaturas are being stressed to show the abandonment of tension. The second Arabesque is not as lyrical as the first one. The rhythmic pulsatlions in this case become more active. The ornaments on the right hand side require proper timing and the triplets and the others must balance properly with the ensuing eight notes. For measures 66-71 there would be unevenness of consecutive eight notes which might blur the effect of the most carefully used pedal. The left hand should be used carefully in playing the note. (Schmitz, 1966, 46)

Claude Achille Debussy in the song Ariettes oubliees used the verse of the French composer and poet Favart for the preludes -Le vent dans la plaine, suspend son haleine (wind and water, fog and snow) (Debussy, Preludes, vol. I, no. 3). He here has a third piece built entirely in a row on a B# pedal-note. He thus successfully tied consecutive preludes together musically. In comparing the tonal aspects of the three preludes the first is in Bb major. The second is also in B major with some pentatonics while the third piece has the same pitch; and begins with B. But is an essayed into many of the Phrygian modes on B -- which on B# is B#, C# D# E# FG# A# B#. The "wind" pattern it may be noted that does not have F. And #5. The insistence of pedal movements can be illustrated with the reverie. The reverie is a composition that Claude Achille Debussy sold…

Sources Used in Documents:


Bruhn, Siglind. Images and Ideas in Modern French Piano Music: The Extra-Musical

Subtext in Piano Works Ravel, Debussy, and Messiaen. Pendragon Press: Stuyvesant, NY, 1997.

Cortot, Alfred. French Piano Music. Oxford University Press:

London, 1932.

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