Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun

JUly COMPOSER: claude debussy

Claude Debussy

Prelude to the afternoon of a faun 1894

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is possibly Debussy’s most famous piece. It’s  hailed as ground-breaking — some claiming it as a historical turning point for music. The flute solo that ushers in the piece has no recognisable key and an ambiguous interval structure, clearly displaying Debussy’s unusual compositional techniques. This makes it sound like it should sound dissonant or wrong and it did to many audiences at the time. Debussy’s compositions influenced many future composers and these days these sounds are as familiar as birdsong. To me, at least, it is richly melodic and full.

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Debussy: Nocturnes

JUly COMPOSER: claude debussy

Claude Debussy

Three nocturnes 1899

Three Nocturnes is said to have been Debussy’s most ambitious work up until the time it was published. He, himself described it as an experiment. There are hints of some of this other work in there with the use of the wind instruments (especially the flute and oboe) but with this piece I get less of a scene unfolding and more of a series of static image. Or at least one of those strange pictures that looks like its moving when you tilt it this way and that. Even with the more festive middle nocturne there is something eerie but calming about all three played together.

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Debussy: La Mer

JUly COMPOSER: claude debussy

Claude Debussy

La Mer 1903-05

La Mer (French for The Sea) is a well-known composition of Debussy’s, some call it a masterpiece. It is an extremely atmospheric piece of music, drawing heavily on rolling sonorous chords and notes creating an intimate imagery that evokes all the senses. It’s a very familiar style (to me anyway) from film and television scores. However, for this piece at least, the imagination does a more wonderful version producing images than any film could.

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Debussy: Suite Bergamasque (Clair de lune)

JUly COMPOSER: claude debussy

Claude Debussy

suite bergamasque 1905

I set out to research the popular Clair de lune only to discover that like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, it was actually one of four movements of a larger piece of music. I understand how one movement might resonate more than others, but to me at least I feel like that’s like choosing only to read the middle of a book, or watch only the end of a movie. You’re missing the whole story that the composer was telling. The wonderful thing I’ve discovered so far on this journey into the classical world is that all of these pieces I’m uncovering are stories waiting to be discovered.

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Composer of the month: July

The catalogue of classical music is massive. It’s hard to know where to start. Over the past couple of years I have been listening on and off to pieces in a mostly random way. But I still really didn’t know anything about them, or about their composers. As part of this journey into the classical world I’ve decided to immerse myself in a different composer every month. Each week of that month I’ll look at a popular or interesting piece and the story around it. It’ll be their story and my story.

July’s composer is Claude Debussy the man who is said to have ushered in 20th Century music with his use of the whole tone scale and favouring of dissonance and unusual intervals. Closely linked with the Impressionist art movement Debussy was fascinated with creating music that represented the range of our senses and the images he saw. 

claude debussy

Claude Debussy