By many accounts Debussy was a quiet, thoughtful child, often times choosing to observe rather than join in childhood activities. Born in St.-Germain-en-Laye, Debussy’s parents owned a China shop. Debussy’s parents were struggling financially, losing the China shop when Debussy was three, and the family was forced to move to Clichy to find work.
As the family continued struggle more financially, young Claude was sent to live with his Aunt, Madame Roustan. It was his Aunt who would take him to concerts, plays and art exhibitions. Debussy proved to be quite talented at the piano, so his Aunt hired Madame de Fleurville, a student of Chopin’s, to teach him. After three years under her tutelage Debussy was accepted into the Paris Conservatory of Music at the age of ten. During his time at the conservatory Debussy excelled at sight singing, piano and composition. While his skill as a composer was apparent, his methods were often considered questionable and even “dangerous”. Debussy is often credited with saying that he preferred composing to “please his own ears” and not following any traditional form, structure or tonality. He often clashed with his professors and was considered a difficult student. Debussy inventiveness was however, very appealing to many. In 1810 he was hired into the service of Madame Nadezhda von Meck, the former patroness of Tchaikovsky. Debussy played with a group of household musicians, taught her daughters piano and even went along on family trips.
Debussy continued composing works including the opera Pelleas et Mallisande and La Mer. While in Paris Debussy continued to compose, being influenced throughout this time by poets and painters including Stephane Mallarme, Claude Monet and the American artist JM Whistler. It is during this time that many of his major works were composed. His quartet in G minor was premiered on December 29, 1893 to strong reviews. Debussy died during the 1918 bombardment of Paris. He, like so many artists and musicians of this time, was very disheartened and disillusioned by the effects of World War I. Paris was so preoccupied with the war that the newspapers barely mentioned the passing of this great composer. It was not until years later that his music began to reemerge and thrill audiences around the globe.
Debussy is overwhelmingly considered the father of the Impressionist movement in music. The term, however, was first coined by art critic Louis Leroy when referencing Claude Monet’s painting Impression: soleil levant (Impression: Sunrise, Fig. 1 ). It was not meant to be complimentary of Monet’s work, but it suited the style so the term “stuck”.Debussy was heavily influenced by this visual art movement and longed to emulate it tonally. Debussy’s impressionism is said to have parallels with it’s visual counterpart – “finely graded instrumental colors; static, non-climactic melodies, often circling round a single pitch (true of Nuages); harmony conceived as a largely coloristic element; complex textures consisting of elaborate surface figurations, often suffusing whatever melodic material they contain.” (Harvard Dictionary of Music) Much like visual impressionism, musical impressionism is less concerned with the subject, but more greatly centered on how the subject is presented, especially where technical and compositional devices are concerned. Debussy did not desire to be literally programmatic, but rather more dream like, one’s impression of said objects. With his Three Nocturnes he achieves this “dreamlike” imagery.
Calude Monet’s Soleil Levant (Sunrise) 1873
Composed between the years 1897-1899, Debussy’s are not Nocturnes in the traditional musical sense (i.e. Chopin’s Nocturnes). Debussy borrows the term from a series of paintings by the American artist JM Whistler, who’s Nocturnes depict scenes of night and dusk in the impressionist style (Fig. 2 and 3 ). As stated earlier, Debussy longed not to convey the images literally but more along the lines of fantasias or dreamscapes. Nuages (Clouds), Fetes (Festivals) and Sirenes (The Sirens) are depictions of what we believe those things to be, not what they actually are.
Play Debussy track (3) and fade out
Perhaps Debussy’s admiration of Indonesian Gamelan Music is the reason for his quest to recreate this same texture in his orchestral Nocturnes . How successful he was remains open for debate. It is generally agreed that with Nuages he comes closest to achieving his goal than with any other previous piece.
While whether or not Debussy achieved this “Heterophonic” texture remains debatable, he does achieve the highly variable quality of clouds with the texture of Nuages . The opening statement by the Clarinets and Bassoons (Fig. 4) seems to emulate the thin cirrus clouds just beginning to gently roll across the sky (and seems to achieve the heterophony Debussy was looking for). The entrance of the English Horn at measure five is evocative of the wind gently blowing the clouds across the sky. The repetition of the same theme added by the strings (mm. 22) and other wind instruments adds a thicker layerof clouds to our sky, lazily swirling and mingling together, ultimately building to a densely, cumulonimbus, cloud filled sky by measure twenty-nine. The introduction of a darker melodic figure at measure thirty-three gives us the possibility of a storm, and by measure forty-three the use of pizzicato in the lower strings seems to emulate light rain drops. Debussy is giving us an image of the ever altering sky, whereby toward the end of the piece the English Horn sounds its repeated “wind” figure and seems to blow the storm away, giving way to a thin layer of clouds again.
Play Nuages for the class and have them think about the questions and their responses. Ask the students if they think Debussy was successful in his attempt to capture the idea of clouds in his composition.
I need some volunteers for this one. Play Entire Debussy Track
Ask students to remove their “Music Lenses”* and put on their “whole world lenses”, then ask them what they think texture means. How does it apply to all five of the senses? Can you see texture? Taste it? Smell It? Touch it? Hear it? Using the visual guides and definitions of the different textures in music, now have them refocus back to Music. Using pieces in your own collection have the students listen to each type of Textural structure. Ask if they can hear distinct or subtle differences in the music. Have students draw their own diagrams of the texture based upon what they hear in the music. *Often time when students come into a music room they will immediately focus on the terms used referencing only the music curriculum. So by asking them to remove their “Music Lenses” you are letting them know that any and all responses are valid.
Impressionism in the Visual Arts Using the Artists and Paintings provided, and/or adding other images from other impressionist artists, discuss the connection between musical impressionism and visual impressionism. A fantastic resource can be found at www.impressionism.org , a web site that include lesson plans and activities for teaching about impressionism in the visual arts. Characteristics of Visual Impressionism (from impressionism.org) - Everyday themes as opposed to biblical or historic events. Unusual use of composition, framing and cropping subjects with no adherence to traditional compositional techniques. Real life landscapes and depictions of nature that were not idealized. Vibrant, light colors often not mixed prior to placement on the canvas resulting in unusual combinations. Impressionist painters painted quickly in an attempt to capture a fleeting moment, often this was reflected in their broad, visible brush strokes. Characteristics of Musical Impressionism - finely graded instrumental colors static, non-climactic melodies, often circling round a single pitch harmony conceived as a largely coloristic element complex textures consisting of elaborate surface figurations, often suffusing whatever melodic material they contain
North Carolina Symphony Education Program August 14, 2007 Teacher Workshop
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David Hartman, host William H. Curry, Resident Conductor Joan Landry, Assistant Conductor Victor Benedict, Assistant Principal Bassoon Paul Goldsberry, Violin Jacqueline Saed Wolborsky, Assistant Principal Violin II
Panel Interview/ Discussion:
Texture in the Rite of Spring and The Firebird Igor Stravinsky
Pass out various percussion instruments to your class, breaking them into groups of 3 or 4 students. All students should have rhythm sticks along with another type of instrument.
Give the students a rhythm to all play together at the same time with the rhythm sticks. Describe this as MONOPHONY.
Then, divide the class into two groups, still playing the sticks. Have one play an ostinato rhythm, while the other group plays the original rhythm. This is HOMOPHONY .
Next, divide students into their groups of 3 or 4 and ask one group to keep playing the sticks, while the others use their other instruments. Give the original rhythm, the ostinato, as well as as many other rhythms that you may need. This is POLYPHONY.
Finally, ask them all to play one of the rhythms together as a group, using the different instruments. This is HETEROPHONY.
Firebird tells him about the ogre's secret of immortality: that his soul, in the form of an egg in a coffin, must remain unbroken. Ivan breaks open the coffin and smashes the egg forthwith, whereupon the monster dies and the evil spell which has been cast over his kingdom dissolves and all captives are set free.
As expected, the prince's flame, Tsarevna, and he are married.
INFERNAL DANCE OF KING KATSCHEÏ The Prince is suddenly confronted by Katscheï's horrible servants, and ultimately, the magician himself. Katscheï tries to turn the Prince into stone, but the hero produces the Firebird's magic feather. The Firebird appears and forces Katscheï and his followers into a frenetic dance.
Katscheï and his retinue are destroyed. All of the prisoners are set free, including the Thirteenth Princess, whom the Prince weds. Over string tremolos, a solo horn plays a variation of the theme that was first presented by the flutes in the Princesses' Round. Other members of the orchestra incorporate the melody, as the Finale builds to a grandiose climax.
Sent to live with his Aunt, Madame Roustan. It was she who would take him to concerts, plays and art exhibitions.
He often clashed with his professors and was considered a difficult student.
1810 - Hired into the service of Madame Nadezhda von Meck, the former patroness of Tchaikovsky. Debussy played with a group of household musicians, taught her daughters piano and even went along on family trips.
Debussy is overwhelmingly considered the father of the Impressionist movement in music.
Debussy’s impressionism is said to have parallels with it’s visual counterpart – “finely graded instrumental colors; static, non-climactic melodies, often circling round a single pitch (true of Nuages); harmony conceived as a largely coloristic element; complex textures consisting of elaborate surface figurations, often suffusing whatever melodic material they contain.” (Harvard Dictionary of Music) With his Three Nocturnes he achieves this “dreamlike” imagery.
Composed between the years 1897-1899, Debussy’s are not Nocturnes in the traditional musical sense (i.e. Chopin’s Nocturnes). Debussy borrows the term from a series of paintings by the American artist JM Whistler, who’s Nocturnes depict scenes of night and dusk in the impressionist style.
JM Whistler’s Nocturne: Blue and Gold Old Battersea Bridge 1872-1877
JM Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: “The Falling Rocket”, 1875
Texture in Music – The general pattern of sound created by the elements of a work or passage. For example, the texture of a work that is perceived as consisting of the combination of several melodic lines is said to be contrapuntal or polyphonic.
The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
4. Heterophony . In “ Nuages” Debussy is attempting to create a Heterophonic orchestral texture. Heterophonic texture is rare in Western music, more commonly found in Asian, African and even Native American music. Heterophony is the simultaneous statement of two or more different versions of what is, essentially, the same melody (Harvard Dictionary)..
In Nuages Debussy achieves the fluctuating nature of clouds, simultaneously revealing and obscuring the sky. The composer continuously reveals and hides the repeated melody with his use of harmony and texture; giving the listener not a literal, “photographic” image of clouds, but more of the cloud filled skies of our memories or dreams.
Inform students that this piece is entitled Nuages or Clouds, and that it was composed to give the impression of clouds in the sky. Have students think about times when they have watched the clouds and ask them the following questions (Incorporate the Science related activity for older groups):
1. What do clouds look like?
2. Can they be different shapes?
3. Are there different types of clouds? Thick, thin, tall, wispy, etc.
Use the Introduction above, but now inform students that you would like them to move as if they were clouds.
Have one or two students be the “wind” gently blowing the clouds around the room. Instruct them to try and have there movements flow with the piece of music. This exercise works really well with scarves.
Guided Listening III – Visual
Debussy was heavily influenced by the visual artists of his time. Have students draw there own impression of clouds, first without playing the recording and then have them create a second picture attempting to draw on paper what Debussy did with music.
Ask students to think about the following:
Are there differences in the two drawings and if so what are they?