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Claude Debussy's Nocturnes and his musical style in the 1890s

Dissertation
Author: Chun-Yi Liu
Abstract:
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was one of the most important composers in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. His innovative harmonic language changed principles of tonal music which had existed for more than two hundred years. Debussy established a new musical style, and his innovations have influenced generations of composers. In the 1890s Debussy freed himself from Wagner's influence and created his own musical style. His only String Quartet, Prélude à l'Après-midi d'un faune, Pelléas et Mélisande, and the Nocturnes are his most significant works during this period. This document will include historical research and score analysis of the Nocturnes, seeking to make a comprehensive stylistic analysis in order to understand Debussy's musical style at this time.

TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS……………………………………………………………...iii ABSTRACT……………………………………………………………………………...iv LIST OF TABLES…………………………………………………………………...…..vii LIST OF MUSICAL EXAMPLES………………………………………………….…..viii CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION...…………………………………………………..1 General Historical Background....…………………………………....……………….1 Justification....……………………………………………………...…………………5 Methodology………………………………………………………………………….5 Literature Review……………………………………………………………………..6 CHAPTER TWO: INFLUENCES ON DEBUSSY IN THE 1890s.…………………….10 Influential Friends.......................................................................................................10 Influential Events……………………………………………………...…………….14 CHAPTER THREE: DEBUSSY’S WORKS IN THE 1890s..…………….…………….17 Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune…………………………………………………..17 Pelléas et Mélisande…………………………………………………………………22 Other Works in the 1890s……………………………………………………………25 CHAPTER FOUR: MUSICAL ANALYSIS OF DEBUSSY’S NOCTURNES…………27 Nuages……………………………………………………………………………….29 Fêtes…………………………………………………………………………………38 Sirènes……………………………………………………………………………….44 CHAPTER FIVE: DEBUSSY’S MUSICAL STYLE IN THE 1890s.………………….50

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Formal Characteristics...……………………………………………………………..50 Harmonic Structure………………………………………………………………….52 Orchestration Traits………………………………………………………………….54 CHAPTER SIX: CONCLUSION……...………………………………………………..56 BIBLIOGRAPHY……………………………………………………………………….58 APPENDIX: RECITAL PROGRAMS…………………………………………………..61 Doctoral Candidacy Recital………………………………………………………….62 Doctoral Recital in Rehearsal Format………………………………………………..63 Doctoral Recital (September 10 th , 2008)…………………………………………….64 Doctoral Recital (January 28 th , 2009)………………………………………………..65 Doctoral Lecture Recital……………………………………………………………..66

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LIST OF TABLES Table 3-1: Structure of the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune………………………….18 Table 3-2: Relationship between the characters………………………………………….22 Table 4-1: Formal structure of “Nuages” ………………………………………………..29 Table 4-2: Structure of the A section in “Fêtes”………………………………………….38 Table 4-3: Subdivision of the first part…………………………………………………..39 Table 4-4: Formal structure of “Sirènes”………………………………………………...45

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LIST OF MUSICAL EXAMPLES Ex. 3-1: Flute solo in mm. 1-4…………………………………………………………...19 Ex.3-2: Oboe solo in mm. 37-39…………………………………………………………19 Ex.3-3: Woodwind melody in the B section (mm. 55-58)……………………………….19 Ex.3-4: Flute solo in mm. 79-83…………………………………………………………20 Ex.3-5 Harmonic progression in mm. 4-13……………………………………………...20 Ex.3-6: Golaud’s motive…………………………………………………………………24 Ex.3-7: Main theme in the first movement (first violin, mm. 1-4)………………………25 Ex.4-1: The musical material D by clarinets in mm. 1-2...………………………………30 Ex.4-2: The musical material E by the English horn.……………………………………30 Ex.4-3: The musical material F by flute in mm. 64-66…..………………………………30 Ex.4-4: Variant of the musical material E by viola in mm. 71-76…………...…………..30 Ex.4-5: The harmonic structure in mm. 5-8….…………………………………………..32 Ex.4-6: The harmonic structure in mm. 21-24..………………………………………….32 Ex.4-7: The harmonic structure in mm. 43-46…..……………………………………….33 Ex.4-8: The harmonic structure in mm. 61-63..………………………………………….34

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Ex.4-9: “Half-cadence” in mm. 14-16…………………………………………………...35 Ex.4-10: “Half-cadence” in mm. 29-32………………………………………………….35 Ex.4-11: Mm. 64-66 in “Nuages”...……………………………………………………...36 Ex.4-12: The harmonic progression in the B section..…………………………………...37 Ex.4-13: Last five measures of “Nuages”………………………………………………..37 Ex.4-14: The musical material D by English horn and clarinets in mm. 3-4……………39 Ex.4-15: The musical material E by oboe in mm. 54-61………………………………...39 Ex.4-16: Consecutive dominant seventh chords with major ninths in mm. 11-14………40 Ex.4-17: The whole-tone melody by cello and bassoons in mm. 15-18...……………….40 Ex.4-18: The harmonic structure in mm. 29-32 and mm. 35-38………………………...41 Ex.4-19: The harmonic structure in mm. 54-56………………………………………….41 Ex.4-20: Fanfare of trumpets in mm. 124-131…………………………………………..42 Ex.4-21: Fragment of horn in mm. 39-40………………………………………………..43 Ex.4-22: Woodwinds triplets in mm. 27-28……………………………………………...44 Ex.4-23: The musical material D by English horn in mm. 12-13………………………..45 Ex.4-24: The harmonic progression in mm. 12-13………………………………………46 Ex.4-25: The musical material F by soprano in mm. 26-27……………………………..46 Ex-4-26: Interpolation in flute part in mm. 38-41……………………………………….47

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Ex.4-27: Variant of the material D in mm. 58-62………………………………………..47 Ex.4-28: Trumpet melody in mm. 83-84………………………………………………...48 Ex.4-29: Mezzo-soprano upward motion in m. 14………………………………………48 Ex.4-30: Trumpet melody in mm. 111-112………………………………………………48 Ex.4-31: The harmonic structure in mm. 137-138……………………………………….49 Ex.4-32: Last five measures of “Sirènes”………………………………………………..49 Ex.5-1: Oboe part in mm. 224-231 of “Fêtes”…………………………………………...52 Ex.5-2: Flute section in mm. 103-104 of “Sirènes”……………………………………...54

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CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION General Historical Background Functional harmony dominated Western music from the Baroque period until the twentieth century. The most influential composers in the Classical period, such as Haydn (1732-1809), Mozart (1756-1791), and Beethoven (1770-1827), established functional harmony as the common practice in Western music. Even though the composers in the Romantic period, such as Chopin (1810-1849), Liszt (1811-1886), and Wagner (1813-1883), created new music styles and genres, they still followed the principles of functional harmony. At the end of the nineteenth century, however, when functional harmony had been carried to its limit, some composers developed new sounds and new styles. Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was one of the most important composers of this time. His musical style, especially his harmonic innovation, has influenced generations of composers. Debussy was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. During his childhood he did not attend an ordinary school, but his aunt and godmother, Clémentine, understood

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his talent and offered him piano lessons. In 1871, Clémentine arranged for Debussy to receive his first piano lesson from an Italian musician, Jean Cerutti. The next year, Debussy was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire. At the Conservatoire he studied piano with Antoine Marmontel and solfège with Albert Lavignac, and in 1877 he enrolled in Émile Durand’s harmony class. Debussy did not perform particularly well in piano competitions and harmony class, but he had already begun to show signs of independence. In 1879 Debussy began to compose mélodies, and he enrolled in Ernest Guiraud’s composition class in 1880. He won the Prix de Rome in 1884 with his cantata L’enfant prodigue, and he spent the next two years in Rome at the Villa Medici. During his two-year sojourn in Rome, Debussy was working on a series of envois, 1 The next few years after his return to Paris were a time for Debussy to establish his new aesthetic ideas. He often visited the literary and artistic cafés where the symbolists gathered, and made close friendships with Stéphane Mallarmé, Pierre Louÿs, Paul Dukas, Robert Godet, Ernest Chausson, Eugène Ysaÿa, and Raymond Bonheur. He including Zuleima (a work still unknown or lost) and Printemps, to meet the requirement as the first prize winner of the Prix de Rome. After his return to Paris in March, 1887, Debussy kept working on La Damoiselle élue, which was finished in 1888 and dedicated to Paul Dukas.

1 Envoi is a short stanza of a ballade which serves as a summary or dedication. Here it means the works that the winner of Prix de Rome completed during their sojourn in Rome.

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went to Bayreuth twice in 1888 and 1889. Wagner’s Tristan made a strong impression on him since the early 1880s, but he eventually realized he needed to free himself from Wagner’s influence. At the Universal Exposition of 1889 Debussy was fascinated by the Javanese gamelan, which influenced his musical ideas and helped complete the formation of his aesthetic beliefs. The move away from Wagnerism and the influence of the Javanese gamelan and his literary friends led Debussy to insert new musical ideas and colors into his works, introducing highly original musical aesthetics. 2 In 1893 Debussy started writing his only complete opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, which might be the most important work for him during the 1890s. The opera was finished in 1895, but it was not premiered until 1902. The delay of the premiere disappointed Debussy. Besides Pelléas et Mélisande, Debussy completed two of his major orchestral works during this period of time: one is the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune (1891-1894), whose premiere in 1894 was a big success; the other is the Nocturnes (1897-1899), which includes three pieces: “Nuages”, “Fêtes”, and “Sirènes”.

In 1901 Debussy became a music critic and journalist. Writing for the Revue blanche, he used his column to develop some of his less orthodox ideas. 3

2 François Lesure, “Claude Debussy,” Grove Music Online, During the http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com:80/subscriber/article/grove/music/07353 (accessed April 3, 2009). 3 François Lesure, “Claude Debussy,” Grove Music Online.

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1900s Debussy was working on other two orchestral works: La mer (1903-1905) and the Images (1905-1912) for orchestra, which is his last orchestral work. The premiere of La mer, conducted by Camille Chevillard, did not draw a positive response from the critics; however, when Debussy conducted the piece himself in 1908, which was also Debussy’s conducting debut, it was a greater success than any other previous performance of this piece. Other important works during the 1900s are two Images for piano (1905 and 1907), Estampes (1903), L’isle joyeuse (1904), and Children’s Corner (1908). In the 1910s Debussy started writing ballet music. His Jeux was commissioned by the famous ballet impresario Diaghilev, but its premiere was somewhat overshadowed by Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which was premiered two weeks later than Jeux. During Debussy’s last three years he finished the Cello Sonata (1915), the Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp (1916), and the Violin Sonata (1917). He died in Paris, March 25 th , 1918. As mentioned above Debussy influenced the composers in the twentieth century deeply, creating new ways for Western music composers to write music. Nowadays when people talk about the history and theory of the twentieth-century Western music, Debussy is always one of the first composers to be mentioned.

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Justification Debussy’s major orchestral works include the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune, the Nocturnes, La mer, and Images, all of which are still well-known on concert programs today. In addition, the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune, the Nocturnes, his only complete opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and the String Quartet constitute Debussy’s most important achievements of the 1890s. 4 Methodology Among these four important pieces in the 1890s, the Faune and Pelléas et Mélisande have received much more attention in the analytical literature than the Nocturnes, Debussy’s last work in the nineteenth century. Hence, it is appropriate to present historical research and theoretical analysis of the Nocturnes, and through a stylistic analysis of Debussy’s Nocturnes one can see how Debussy’s musical style developed during the 1890s. This document will contain historical research and score analysis. For the historical research, I will refer to several critical and authoritative editions of music literature about Debussy’s life and works as well as the musical and social background, seeking to have an accurate and comprehensive perspective on the influences upon Debussy’s musical styles during the 1890s.

4 Mark DeVoto, Debussy and The Veil of Tonality: Essays on His Music (New York: Pendragon Press, 2004), 96.

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For the score analysis, I will focus on the form, harmony, and orchestration analysis in order to understand how his musical language is different from that of his predecessors and contemporaries. I will also refer to the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune and Pelléas et Mélisande, both of which were completed before the Nocturnes in the 1890s, comparing the musical structure and characteristics in these pieces to see how Debussy’s musical style developed during that period of time. Literature Review There are many biographies about Debussy’s life and works, among which Marcel Dietschy’s A Portrait of Claude Debussy is the most representative. 5 Another important biography is Edward Lockspeiser’s Debussy: His Life and Mind. It offers a wealth of historical detail about Debussy and his friends as well as a rich portrait of the arts in Debussy’s time and how these influenced Debussy’s aesthetics. Dietschy offers a detailed and accurate view of Debussy’s life. Through his quotation of Debussy’s letters one can understand what was in Debussy’s mind and what influenced Debussy’s life and works. 6

5 Marcel Dietschy, A Portrait of Claude Debussy, ed. and trans. by William Ashbrook and Margaret G. Cobb (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).

Lockspeiser divided this two-volume biography into four parts: Youth (1862-1887), 6 Mark DeVoto, Debussy and the Veil of Tonality: Essays on His Music, xi.

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Maturity (1888-1902), the Years of Debussyism (1902-1914), and the Later Years (1908-1918). Through this biography readers can grasp the historical background during Debussy’s life and the relation between Debussy’s music and other artists’ works. Mark DeVoto’s Debussy and the Veil of Tonality: Essays on His Music includes many essays of the author focusing on the theoretical analysis of Debussy’s works. DeVoto discusses Debussy’s idea about symphonic music, the harmonic structure in “Nuages”, the symphonic tonality in La mer, features that distinguish Debussy’s music from Ravel’s (1875-1937), etc., and claims that “Nuages” from the Nocturnes presents Debussy’s progressive harmonic language in the 1890s. Roy Howat’s Debussy in Proportion discusses the musical form in Debussy’s works. He used the Golden Section and mathematics to analyze the structure in Debussy’s works, and claims that many of Debussy’s mature works, such as “Reflets dan l’eau” from the Images for piano in 1905, L’isle joyeuse, La mer, the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune, etc., conform to the principles of the Golden Section and the Fibonacci summation series to either reach their dynamic climax or critical tonal or harmonic points. It offers a different point of view to examine the structure in Debussy’s music. In addition, DeVoto’s Debussy and the Veil of Tonality was published in 2004,

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while Howat’s Debussy in Proportion was published in 1983. It will be interesting to compare the different points of view of these two writings, and to understand the research focus on Debussy’s music during two different periods of time. Chun-Hsien Chang’s dissertation “A Study of the Technique and Function of Orchestration in Selected Works of Claude Debussy: Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune, Nocturnes, La mer and Pelléas et Mélisande” discusses the technique and function of the orchestration in the four selected works, revealing some characteristics, such as use of instruments, doublings, and special string techniques, in Debussy’s works. Chang states that the function of the orchestration is to serve as an articulation of the formal structure and to create pictorial imagination and emotional effects. 7 François Lesure’s “The Nocturnes of Claude Debussy, or, the Rupturing of the Symphonic Tradition” and Sharon Gelleny’s “Cyclic Form and Debussy’s Nocturnes” both mentioned the cyclic form in the piece, but Lesure indicated the melodic fragmentation, rhythmic variation, and texture signal a rupture within the symphonic tradition.

Matthew Gordon Brown claimed in his “Tonality and Form in Debussy’s Prélude

7 Chun-Hsien Chang, “A Study of the Technique and Function of Orchestration in Selected Works of Claude Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Nocturnes, La mer and Pelléas et Mélisande” (DMA diss., University of Northern Colorado, 2002), v.

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à l’Après-midi d’un faune” that though the Faune can be explained by traditional tonal procedures, a system of four different factors is suggested to characterize Debussy’s move away from conventional symphonic models: incomplete progressions, parenthetical episodes, motive compression, and tonal models. 8 Through these biographies and analytical writings one can establish a clear perspective of Debussy’s life and music, and I will include in my document the different points of view.

8 Matthew Gordon Brown, “Tonality and Form in Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune,” Music Theory Spectrum 15, no. 2 (Fall 1993): 127.

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CHAPTER TWO INFLUENCES ON DEBUSSY IN THE 1890S After winning the Prix de Rome in 1884, Debussy stayed at the Villa Medici in Rome for two years (1885-1887); however, this sojourn was not productive. In the spring of 1887, he came back to Paris. His return to Paris relaxed his depression, and he kept searching for his direction of writing music and his own aesthetics. As Dietschy mentioned, friendships and the clarification of aesthetic aims dominate the six years following Debussy’s return from Rome. 9 Influential Friends This chapter will introduce several influential friends of Debussy and important events which help confirm Debussy’s musical style in the 1890s. After his return to Paris, Debussy went to his teacher Ernest Guiraud (1837-1892) for advice about writing technique and music ideas. They kept meeting irregularly for two or three years. During their conversations, Debussy explained his theories to Guiraud in order to test their practicability. For example, in their conversation on opera, Debussy

9 Marcel Dietschy, A Portrait of Claude Debussy, ed. and trans. William Ashbrook and Margaret G. Cobb (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 47.

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talked about his ideal librettist: … who only implies things and who would allow me to graft my dream on to his, who would invent characters belonging to no particular time or place; who would not despotically impose on me actions to be depicted and would leave me free… In opera there is too much singing… Nothing must hold up the drama: every musical development not called for by the words is an error… I dream of librettos which do not condemn me to perpetrate acts that are long and heavy, but which give me scenes that are mobile and varied…. 10 Through Guiraud’s advice, Debussy gained confidence in his own musical ideas and theories. He held that music should not be developed, but should reject all formulas to become discreet, human, and, above all, expressive.

11 The composer Paul Dukas (1865-1935) was also a very close and lifelong friend of Debussy. Debussy dedicated his La Damoiselle élue to Dukas, and they talked about music ideas and ambitions with each other. As a music critic, Dukas was known to be an honest and strict one, and his review of Debussy’s music always shows his understanding about Debussy’s music ideas and personality. Nichols mentions:

The notice begins with Dukas explaining that Debussy has made life difficult for himself by refusing to repeat his own past formulae: ‘none of his works appears as the expected consequence of another; they all bring something special which denotes, if not an absolute transformation of his

10 Roger Nichols, The Life of Debussy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 58. 11 Dietschy, A Portrait of Claude Debussy, 58.

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manner, at least a different and unexpected point of view’. 12 Another important composer friend of Debussy is Ernest Chausson (1855-1899). As an aspiring composer, Chausson had a difficult time to detach himself from César Franck’s influence. In general, he was more like Debussy’s elder brother, helping him financially and morally, than an inspiring composer colleague for Debussy.

The Belgium violinist and conductor Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931) helped Debussy with his career in a different way. Debussy’s only String Quartet was dedicated to him, and his string quartet ensemble (the Ysaÿe Quartet) premiered this work on December 29, 1893. When Debussy was looking for a place to premiere Pelléas et Mélisande during the late 1890s, Ysaÿe also tried to arrange a performance of some excerpts from the opera, but Debussy declined. Besides these friends in the music circle, Debussy was acquainted with many literary friends after his return from Rome. He frequently visited several places where the Parisian intellectuals gathered, including Bailly’s bookshop, some cafés and bistros, and his friends’ houses. Among all these groups, the most prestigious one is the Tuesday evening gathering at the house of the poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898), who is the master of Symbolist poems. This group of writers, artists, journalists, and musicians shared a passion for contemporary art, an interest in renewing worn-out artistic

12 Nichols, The Life of Debussy, 98.

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conventions, and an openness to what the West perceived as the aesthetics of Japan and China. 13 Debussy joined this group around 1892, and he became friends with the writer Pierre Louÿs (1870-1925), who became his closest friend in the late 1890s, the businessman and writer André Poniatowski, and the symbolist poet Henri de Régnier, whose group of poems “Scènes au crepuscule” inspired the initial title for what later became Debussy’s Nocturnes. 14 Debussy was introduced to Mallarmé in 1890. The poet was very impressed by Debussy’s Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire, which was published in the same year, and asked if Debussy could work on a theatrical production of his L’après-midi d’un faune. This project turns out to be Debussy’s orchestral masterpiece, the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune, and after the premiere of the Faune, Mallarmé once said, “This music extends the emotion of my poem.”

15 1. Things exist, we do not have to create them; we have only to grasp their relationships; and it is the threads of these relationships that make up poems and orchestras. Though Debussy and Mallarmé were never close friends, they had many aesthetic ideas in common. Two quotations from Mallarmé’s writings coincide with Debussy’s aesthetics:

13 Rosemary Lloyd, “Debussy, Mallarmé, and Les Mardis,” in Debussy and His World, ed. Jane F. Fulcher (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001), 256. 14 Lloyd, “Debussy, Mallarmé, and Les Mardis,” 258-259. 15 Dietschy, A Portrait of Claude Debussy, 94.

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2. Everything sacred which wishes to remain sacred shrouds itself in mystery. 16 It is obvious that Debussy’s musical style is influenced much more by the Symbolists than his music contemporaries. He had liked reading literature and poetry since he went to the Conservatoire, and during the 1880s he had finished many settings of poems by several Symbolists, such as Paul Verlaine, Charles Baudelaire, and Mallarmé.

Yet literature and poems are only part of the influences on Debussy’s musical style. While Debussy was looking for his own way of writing music after his return from Rome, there were several important events which would broaden Debussy’s vision and influence his musical style. Influential Events During the 1880s Parisian intellectuals were dominated by Wagner’s music drama, and so was Debussy. His enthusiasm for Wagner reached its climax in 1888 when he went to Bayreuth for the performance of Meistersinger and Parsifal. However, after he went back to Bayreuth for Tristan und Isolde the next year, he started to realize that he needed to detach himself from Wagner’s influence. In order to move away from Wagner’s musical style, Debussy referred to different kinds of music and arts. He became familiar with Mussorgsky’s music in the early 1890s;

16 Nichols, The Life of Debussy, 62.

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in 1893 Debussy and Chausson began a serious study of Mussorgsky’s songs and probably of his opera Boris Godunov as well. 17 The Universal Exhibition in the summer of 1889 was another influential event for Debussy. This Exhibition, featuring the Eiffel Tower, brought many oriental artists, music, and dramas to Paris. It was the first time that Debussy encountered the Javanese gamelan, and its complex texture, colorful timber, and exotic scale would influence Debussy’s music and aesthetics throughout his life. In the Exhibition, Debussy was also attracted to the Annamite theater from Vietnam. In a newspaper article in 1913 Debussy mentioned:

In the Annamite theater they present a sort of operatic embryo, influenced by China, in which one can recognize the formula of the Ring, only there are more Gods and fewer pieces of scenery…A small, furious clarinet is in charge of emotion; a tam-tam is the organizer of terror…and that’s all! No purpose-built theater, no hidden orchestra. Nothing but instinctive need for art which has found ingenious way of satisfying itself; not a trace of bad taste! And when you consider those people have never had the notion of borrowing their formulae from the school of Munich: what can they be thinking of? 18 Here we can find Debussy’s predilection for economy of means. In his works, Debussy usually focuses on certain musical materials, such as a chord, a harmonic movement, or a motive, and restates and develops these materials consistently without

17 Dietschy, A Portrait of Claude Debussy, 64. 18 Nichols, The Life of Debussy, 57-58.

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adding other new materials. Through Russian music, especially those works by Mussorgsky, and the oriental music and arts in the Universal Exhibition in 1889, Debussy obtained new musical elements, including ancient and oriental modes, scales, timbres, and textures. On the other hand, Debussy does not completely detach himself from Wagner’s influence. According to Dietschy, Wagner is the only influence to which Debussy had submitted, but by referring to other arts and music, Debussy finally came to see that he could make use of Wagner’s techniques only to the extent that he could go beyond him. 19

19 Dietschy, A Portrait of Claude Debussy, 64-65.

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CHAPTER THREE DEBUSSY’S WORKS IN THE 1890S During the 1890s Debussy completed several important works which not only testify to his success in creating a new way of writing music but also confirm his status in Western music. These works include two popular orchestral works, the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune and the Nocturnes, his only complete opera Pelléas et Mélisande, the String Quartet, and several settings of poems. This chapter will focus on several Debussy’s works completed before the Nocturnes, especially the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune and Pelléas et Mélisande, seeking to obtain a general idea of Debussy’s direction in the 1890s. Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune Debussy began working on the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune in 1892 and finished the score in 1894. The premiere, which was a big success, was on December 22 nd , 1894. The conductor Gustave Doret even encored the Faune: On arriving at the Salle d’Harcourt on the evening of the concert, Debussy betrayed some anxiety with that slight fixed smile that I recognized so well. He shook my hand without saying a word… Not without emotion, I mounted

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the podium… The public’s silence was impressive at the moment when our admirable flautist, Georges Barrère, played the first phrase. Little by little, I felt behind my back that the audience was conquered and subjugated. The triumph was complete. There were cheers. The orchestra itself applauded. An encore was demanded, and I was forced to grant it. I broke the rules, thinking that it had been a long time since a masterpiece of this class had been presented. 20 The Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune is in ternary form. The structure is shown in Table 3-1.

Table 3-1: Structure of the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune Sections A Parenthetic section transition B A' Coda Measures 1-30 31-36 37-54 55-78 79-105 106-110

The A section, in E major, features the most famous flute solo theme (Ex.3-1), which is transformed three times at m. 11, 21, and 26 in this section. There is a parenthetic section between the A section and the transition (mm. 31-36), and this parenthetic section is supported by whole-tone harmony. The transition begins with the musical material played by oboe and strings (Ex.3-2). Through the development of this material, the transition leads to the B section.

20 Dietschy, A Portrait of Claude Debussy, 93.

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Ex.3-1: Flute solo in mm. 1-4

Ex.3-2: Oboe solo in mm. 37-39

The B section, which is in D major, begins with the melody by woodwinds (Ex.3-3), and it ends on a perfect authentic cadence (mm. 71-74). The A' section comes back in E major; however, the original flute melody starts on E instead of C♯ (Ex.3-4). After two restatements of the main theme, the Coda begins at m. 106 and prolongs the tonic chord, E major triad, to the end.

Ex.3-3: Woodwind melody in the B section (mm. 55-58)

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Ex.3-4: Flute solo in mm. 79-83

There are several characteristics of Debussy’s musical style presented in the Faune. First, the harmonic movement in the A section is unique. Debussy obscures the tonality by using A♯ half-diminished seventh, B ♭ dominant seventh, and D dominant seventh chords in a row before the tonic triad, E major chord, arrives at m.13 (Ex.3-5).

Ex.3-5 Harmonic progression in mm. 4-13

In addition, he blurs the phrase structure by establishing the tonic triad in the middle of the first variant of the flute melody (mm. 11-14), which gives the music a sense of continuous motion. Harmonically, Debussy also supports the flute theme and its variants with different kinds of harmonies, giving the music different colors. This

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technique is also found in his opera Pelléas et Mélisande and the Nocturnes. The most radical departure from the traditional harmony progression is in the parenthetic section (mm. 31-36). Debussy uses whole-tone harmony to create a different harmonic color. In these six measures, he uses the whole tone scale, C♯ - D♯ - F - G - A - B, in the first three measures, and the other whole-tone scale, C - D - E - F♯ - G♯ - A♯, in the last three measures. The instrumentation of the Faune includes three flutes, two oboes, one English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, antique cymbals, two harps, and strings. Woodwind instruments play the main theme throughout the piece, while strings are in a supporting position most of the time. This kind of orchestration was rare in Western music at that time. There is no use of string harmonics in this piece, but Debussy instructs the strings to play tremolo on the fingerboard (sur la touche) in two sections (mm. 11-16 and 94-99), producing a very light quality. Since the first performance, the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune has become Debussy’s most popular and representative work. While concert-goers are acquainted with Debussy’s orchestral music through the Faune, music scholars also start their research on Debussy’s orchestral music from this piece.

Full document contains 77 pages
Abstract: Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was one of the most important composers in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. His innovative harmonic language changed principles of tonal music which had existed for more than two hundred years. Debussy established a new musical style, and his innovations have influenced generations of composers. In the 1890s Debussy freed himself from Wagner's influence and created his own musical style. His only String Quartet, Prélude à l'Après-midi d'un faune, Pelléas et Mélisande, and the Nocturnes are his most significant works during this period. This document will include historical research and score analysis of the Nocturnes, seeking to make a comprehensive stylistic analysis in order to understand Debussy's musical style at this time.