Debussy Clair Lune Essay

Throughout the opening phrase the left hand part begins to slowly descend, while the diatonic opening theme floats above in the right hand.In Bar 2 G and A; an augmented second, show Debussy’s confident use of unconventional intervals.The composition opens in D major with a tonic chord.

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In addition, Clair de Lune is compositionally, the most adventurous piece of the suite.

The positioning within the suite is important; it is the suite’s third movement, and is the lyrical climax of the suite.

This gesture could also be interpreted as opening with chord iii (still with doubled mediant) moving to chord I on the third beat of the bar; however I think this is less likely to be Debussy’s intention because of the use of a D chord in bar 9 when the phrase is imitated.

The choice of chord I is also supported by the left hand for the opening four bars, which implies a chord-a-bar harmonic rhythm.

Under this, we have more unusual harmony, the harmonic rhythm has returned to the dotted crotchet pulse and what appears to be an A chord with a doubled seventh, followed by the progression IV iii and is repeated again in the following bar.

At this point we have now subtly changed dynamic to piano from pianissimo; while we have seen crescendos and diminuendos written into the score, along with hairpins in bars 13, 14, and 29 this is the first marked change in dynamic.The right hand chords in this section should be seen as a melody, the harmony is in the bass part of the left hand. While the music feels distinctly diatonic, it does not feel rooted in the tonic key of D minor.In bar 27 we begin the B section; new thematic material is introduced, as is a change in accompaniment; we now have an arpeggio figure in the left hand. The first two bar phrase uses the rhythmic cell shown earlier to create a melodic phrase. The chord used on the third beat of bar 27, is an unusual harmonic choice within conventional tonality and shows Debussy experimenting with non-functional harmony; this creates a new and interesting sound world, made more obvious by the preceding chord III.Bars 5-6 are used sequentially in bar 7-8, the last beat altered to lead into the repeat of the theme in bar 9 with a traditional perfect cadence.The opening 8 bars are repeated in bars 9; with some decoration, harmonic substitutions and other changes. Bar 15 could be interpreted both as the finishing of the previous phrase, making it 8 bars long, or as the start of the next block in material; the change in texture is significant, we now have a homophonic texture. An ascending left hand figure is introduced in the bar 19. The harmony, while compositionally inventive, is still heavily rooted on conventional diatonic harmony; there has been occasional chromatism but the music feels diatonic.The accompaniment also shows this rhythm in bar 29; in the arpeggio; the return to the previously arpeggiated note occurs on this rhythm.While the overall structure of the movement is ambiguous, I think the form best fitting the movement is ternary form, extended by a coda created from material originating in section B.The length of sections sequentially decreases by two bars as shown bellow.It is worth mentioning that Paul Verlaine’s poem Claire de Lune, which is probably the inspiration for this movement – both the titles Bergamasque and Claire de Lune originate in this poem; is in three stanzas, mirroring Debussy’s use of three sections in this movement.The piece has now moved into E major, the first modulation to occur in the piece.In addition to the modulation, the texture also changes.


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