Examining the Method of Debussy and His Influence on Symphonic Music

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Introduction

Claude Debussy is one of the most influential people who shaped the modern string quartet not only through their own works, but also the philosophy they employed when composing their music. Debussy (1862-1918), was a great song writer and a singer who believed in basing his art on what is affecting the society (DeVoto 45). The methods he used in composing his song, the harmonic progression, his creation of colors and nuances from his instruments, and the forms he would use made him unique. In 1893, he composed a String Quartet which was a good demonstration of the approach he took when composing his song. He would challenge the traditional methods of composing songs that were common in those days. He believed in coming up with approaches that would help an artist present his or her views without the restrictions that were common in those traditional approaches.

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It is important to understand the context under which, Debussy started composing his unique music. According to (Fulcher 12), the String Quartet was composed when Debussy was just coming to terms with the ideals of impressionism in his work of art. It was at this time that he realized that his audience was very interested in the impression given by the music they hear, then the method that was used in his composition. After a careful analysis of his audience, he realized that he had to find a way of offering them something unique. It is because of this analysis that he developed unique approaches in composing music. He started by emphasizing on harmonic progression. He then introduced several other ideas on how to compose symphonic music. His music became popular during his time because he presented something unique to his audience. His symphonic music had massive impact on the present day string Quartet

Debussy’s Method of Composition

Debussy’s method of music composition was massively influenced by the ideals of impressionism. According to Jones (93), Debussy was a very sensitive musician. He was keen on identifying specific needs of his audience. It is through this keen eye that he was able to realize that his audience needed more than music composed through traditional principles. He, therefore, rejected this principles claiming that they restrict the capacity of a musician to compose songs relevant to social events. He developed his unique approaches of composing music that was contrary to the traditional principles. He has been credited for having composed music with very clear melodies, vivid colors and texture. He would use his music to bring out colors in a unique way that had not been witnessed before.

According to Lelutiu (335), Debussy’s work has had massive influence in the modern-day composition of symphonic songs. He would insist that music goes beyond entertainment (Debussy and Rackipov 20). This closely relates message that Gupta (1) gave recently at a TED Talk show. Gupta talks about a charming music from African American man named Nathaniel who was once a homeless man living in the streets. Nathaniel had been subjected to radiotherapy that had affected his emotional life negatively. He lived in despair after this treatment. However, his violin would offer him consolation. Through constantly playing and listening to music. His life was transformed positively. Gupta says that music acted as medicine for Nathaniel. He notes that music is sanity that evokes emotions, brings out the talent, and motivation to succeed in life (Lelutiu (336).

Debussy’s Harmonic Language and Progression

The research by Maurice (78) shows that Debussy was an intelligent artist who was keen on maintaining unique melodies in his song. His compositions were dominated by seventh and ninth chords, a fact that made them unique to his audience. He realized that the best way of dealing with the problem of dissonance among his audience was to develop harmonic progression of his String Quartet. He also believed in composing music in the context of the arena in which it is presented. This closely relates to the views of Brayne (1), one of the modern-day musicians. Bryne talks about how architecture played a major role in the evolution of music. He says that his music was defined by the halls where he presented them. Music works perfect if it is designed taking into consideration the environment where it will be played. For instance, a music played in a cathedral will be different from that played at a club.

Debussy’s Forms

McFarland (324) describes Debussy as a revolutionist who dared to challenge the existing structure at a time when music was widely believed to follow a given pattern in their composition. He was very sensitive when it came to the issue of impression of his work. In order to generate specific impressions in his music, he would often use a sonata form when composing music. This would often involve breaking some of the conventional rules when composing music. His vivid melodic patterns were created using quick changes of slow lively forms in order to ensure smooth continuation of the flow of music. His four-string quartet movement, from the first movement to the fourth movement, had unique features that played an important role in enhancing the progression of the music. The focus of these movement was to capture attention of the audience.

Morrison (47) says that one of the issues that Debussy was keen on addressing in his new forms was the unification of the composition. It is difficult to attract the attention of the audience if the composition of the music is not unified. He introduced cyclical structure in order to ensure that his compositions were unified (Debussy and Ravel 27). These cyclical structures became important characteristics of his style. Stowell (72) says that String Quartet is a perfectly structured artwork. It applies the cyclic principles in a unique manner in its composition. According to Trezise (83), Debussy was very successful in integrating the main motif, from the first to the fourth movements.

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Approach to Orchestration

Debussy took a unique approach to his orchestration. Wheeldon (89) notes that the pre-Raphaelites had a massive impact on Debussy’s work. They challenged the existing structures, something that Debussy found fascinating. This explains why he preferred using unusual orchestral combinations. According to Wheeldon (118), Debussy was an expert in manipulating lyrical tones. In his music, the string and brass sounds would come out so clearly, demonstrating his unique capacity to maintain a smooth flow of his melodies. This was his secrete in creation of exceptional melodic pattern. This pattern laid emphasis on instrument’s colors and nuances. To him, music, just like any piece of art, was a way of expressing personal feelings in an engaging and entertaining manner.

Debussy’s Influence on Symphonic Music

Scholars generally agree that Debussy’s work had a massive influence on the modern-day symphonic music. His revolutionary vision brought a new approach in composition of music. He proved that composing music is not all about following the traditional structures, but developing a unique set that will engage the audience. This philosophy led to the emergence of various forms of music that we have today. Musicians realized that the main thing they need to do is to understand their audience and produce something unique that will be pleasant to them. His orchestration has also influenced the approach that many artists used currently when composing their music. As Debussy (45) puts it, his works gave musicians independence when composing songs.

Conclusion

Debussy was a unique musician who revolutionized symphonic music. His works have been described as unique not only because of the ability to manipulate the melodies, but also his composition approach that went against established traditional structures at this time. His String Quartet was a masterpiece that focused on understanding the audience and developing a song that will meet their expectations even if this meant gong against the established structures. This made him a very successful musician during his time. His philosophies and music has influenced the transformation of symphonic music in the modern society. He would insist on basing his work on actual events that affected his life or that of the members of his society. His work continue to inspire many people even in the current society.

Works Cited

Byrne, David. “How architecture helped music evolve.” TED 9.27 (2010): 1. Web.

Debussy, Claude, and Errol Rackipov. String Quartet No. 1 for Marimba Quartet. Miami: Rolly Publications, 2001. Print.

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Debussy, Claude, and Maurice Ravel. String Quartets. New York: Cengage, 2010. Print.

Debussy, Claude. String Quartet in G Minor. New York: Cengage. Print.

DeVoto, Mark. Debussy and the Veil of Tonality: Essays on His Music. Hillsdale: Pendragon Press, 2004. Print.

Fulcher, Jane. Debussy and His World. New York: Princeton University Press, 2001. Print.

Gupta, Robert. “Music is medicine, music is sanity.” TED 9.26 (2010): 1. Web.

Jones, Evan. Intimate Voices: The Twentieth-Century String Quartet. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2009. Print.

Lelutiu, Radu. “Debussy String Quartet”. The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors 35.5 (2012): 334-338. Print.

Maurice, Ravel. String Quartet in G Minor (debussy): String Quartet in F Major (ravel) (cassette). Chicago: Wiley, 2001. Print.

McFarland, Mark. “Debussy: The Origins of a Method”. Journal of Music Theory 48.2 (2004): 295–324. Print.

Morrison, Daniel. “String Quarteting/ String Quartet No.1/String Quartet in F.” Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors 37.1 (2013): 311-320. Print.

Stowell, Robin. The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.

Trezise, Simon. The Cambridge Companion to Debussy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

Wheeldon, Marianne. Debussy’s Late Style. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. Print.

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