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Twentieth Century Music
French Composer: Claude Debussy
By Jim Garcia


Claude Debussy image Claude Debussy born Aug. 22, 1862, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France
died March 25, 1918, Paris. 


Biographical Information (Hahn).
 Claude Debussy began his musical career by studying piano at the Paris Conservatory of Music from 1872 to 1872.  After failing his piano examinations, he studied composition with Ernest
Guirad.  Debussy was very successful in composition and won several awards for his work.  From 1880 to 1882 Debussy worked as a pianist in the household of Nadezhda von Meck.  In 1892, Debussy began to compose the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, which was performed at the Société Nationale on 22 December 1894.
In 1907, Debussy undertook several journeys to England, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Russia to play the piano and conduct his works. His last work, the Violin Sonata, was performed in May 1917 by Debussy onthe piano.

Discography (Hahn).  Debussy's most famous works are Orchestral Music: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Three Nocturnes, La mer (The Sea), Iberia, Images, and Jeux (Games).  Other works include (Hahn):
Orchestral Music: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Three Nocturnes, La mer (The Sea), Iberia, Images, and Jeux (Games).
Chamber Music: a string quartet, a violoncello sonata, and a set of six sonatas for various combinations of instruments.
Piano Music: two books each of Preludes and Études, Children's Corner Suite, and Suite Bergamasque, including "Clair de lune."
Art Songs: poems by Baudelaire, Verlaine, etc.
Opera: several begun, only one completed -- Pelléas et Mélisande.
Several choral works, such as La Damoiselle Élue.
La Cathedrale Engloutie **listening example is available online see link below**
Many composers like Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven, used traditional or tonal harmony to compose their works up until the mid 1800s.  At the turn of the twentieth century, several composers began to experiment with chromaticism and other non-traditional or atonal harmonies such as the whole tone scale or structure.  Unlike the major or minor scales which use whole and half steps between notes, the whole tone structure only has whole steps and has only seven notes in the scale.  A famous French composer that used the whole tone structure in his compositions was Claude Debussy.  One of his famous orchestral work that uses the whole tone scale is Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

Click Here to Listen to a Whole Tone Composition by Jim Garcia

    The Whole Tone Scale or Structure is based on whole steps between notes.  There are two versions of the whole tone scale.
     See examples below
.  Click Here to listen to example below.

wholetone scale    
 
 The pentatonic scale is comprised of the notes do, re, mi, so, and la of a major scale (the five black keys on a piano, F# Major).  Students are most familiar with the pentatonic scale in American folk songs.  

The following is an example of a G Pentatonic Scale.  Click Here to listen to example.
pentatonic scale in G

Claude Debussy used the simple pentatonic scale and composed a composition that sounded very strange to the audience.  Claude Debussy used the pentatonic scale in his composition La Cathedrale Engloutie.

Click Here to go to the Classical Archives website which has a recording of La Cathedrale Engloutie.
 At the website click on La Cathedrale Engloutie to listen to the recording.
                    [MIDI] Preludes Book 1 - 10.La Cathedrale Engloutie [7:15] (J.E.Dery)

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As you listen to the music, pay attention to the tonality and try to notice the sound of the pentatonic scale throughout the composition.  You will notice that the harmony and sound of the music does not sound like the simple pentatonic scale in the above.  Debussy's genius lies in his ability to take a simple pentatonic scale and make it sound very different and strange.  Many people thought the music of Twentieth Century Composers was very strange and many did not like the strange tonality of their music.



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Works Cited

Debussy, Claude. "La Cathedrale Engloutie." n. a.. 7 May 2003. The Classical Music Archives. 7 MAY 2003
<http://http://www.classicalarchives.com/debussy.html/>.

Claude Debussy Image
Dimitris, Alexandros Toubakaris. Dimitri's Homepage at Stanford. n.d.. 6 May 2003 <http://www.stanford.edu/~dtouba/>.

Garcia, Jim  "G Pentatonic Scale" graphic image 7 May 2003

Garcia, Jim  "G Pentatonic Scale" midi file 7 May 2003

Garcia, Jim "Tritone Progression" midi file 11 November 2000

Garcia, Jim  "Wholetone Scale" graphic image 7 May 2003

Garcia, Jim  "Wholetone Scale" midi file 7 May 2003

Hahn, Chung-Fang Bettina. "Claude Debussy’s Works and Style Summary." Welcome to Chun-Fang Bettina Hahn's Public Lecture Online. n.d.. Indiana University School of Music. 4 April 2003 <http://www.music.indiana.edu/~u520/style.html>.

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