Claude Debussy Nocturnes

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Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a French impressionist composer during the turn-of-the-century. Debussy’s Nocturnes: No. 1, Nuages (clouds) incorporates the use of impressionist art, post-tonality, timber with motive, and experimentation with multiple scale types. Debussy was able to combine aspects of Javanese Gamelan, Russian, and French Baroque music in order to counteract the dominance of German music and allow for greater musical independence. Claude Debussy grew up in Paris and was taught piano and composition at the Paris conservatory. He began composing in 1879 and worked with Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky’s patron. In 1888, he traveled to Bayreuth to listen to a Wagner opera, and realized the power of his music and his need to avoid…show more content…
He dew from the French tradition, “a preference for sensibility, taste, and restraint, admiring particular his older contemporary Charbrier.” (791) Debussy stayed away from the Romantic style of expressing emotions, and instead focused on evoking a certain mood, feeling, atmosphere, or scene. This style of composition is often called impressionist and closely resembles that of the impressionist painters and poets. He was able to create these musical images through “motives, harmony, exotic scales, instrumental timbre, and other elements, and then composes by juxtaposing them.” (791) Instead of using traditional devices and tonality, he used changes in timbre and texture. Nocturnes: No. 1, Nuages premiered in 1901, and demonstrates Debussy’s use of unique orchestration, Asian scales, post-tonality, and dance influence. The title Nocturnes was borrowed from a set of impressionist paintings by James McNeill Whistler. The piece was intended to suggest scenes of mystery, clouds, festivals, and sirens. Debussy cared less about tradition form in the sense of exposition, development, and recap, and instead created, “a kind of musical experience that seems almost visual.”…show more content…
The A section is from measures 1-63 and is un-proportionally longer than the other two sections. The contrasting section is from measure 64-79 and uses the pentatonic scale to create an Asian sound. The other A section serves as a very small recap. However, some musicologist analyze this piece in rotational form. James Hepokoski defines a rotational form as music that, “cycles through a series of varied statements of the basic musical material.” (52) In this piece four rotations are each defined with the beginning of a variation on the opening cloud figure and end with the motive in the English horn. The primary tone in Nuages is B; however, there is no actual tonal center. In Debussy’s compositions, chords serve to generate individual musical images. Instead or shaping phrases, “each chord is conceived as a sonorous unit in a phrase whose structure is determined more by melodic shape or color than by harmonic movement.”

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