The term Impressionism, borrowed from the work of French artists who began in the 1870s to concentrate on depicting effects of light, has long been associated with the music of Debussy and Ravel. Debussy himself invited the use of the term when he chose to call his 1899 sequence of three orchestral pieces Nocturnes, in reference to Whistler’s series of vague, impressionistic paintings of the same name. The first of Debussy’s set, ‘Nuages’ (Clouds), fits the description particularly well: the music seems to concentrate on nothing other than the slow, uneventful movement of the clouds across the sky. The other two pieces give strong visual impressions – ‘Fetes’, which includes the dramatic effect of a procession approaching from the distance, and ‘Sirenes’, with its evocation of one of Debussy’s favourite images, the sea.
Debussy was more closely associated with other artistic movements than Impressionism, and his first masterpiece, the Prelude a l’apres –midi d’un faune was inspired by the work of the Symbolist poet Mallarme. It was Debussy’s intention to write a series of pieces to accompany a staged performance of the poem, but in the and only the Prelude was written, and it was first performed in Paris in 1894 to great acclaim. Yet here again the ‘Impressionist’ tag seems to fit the poise, sense of colour and apparent freedom which Debussy displays, and the work itself signaled a fresh start for music, much as the first Monets did painting.
By the time he came to write the three symphonic sketches of La Mer between 1903 and 1905, Debussy had acquired a devoted following for his mysterious opera Pelleas at Melisande. The clarity, vigour and dancing rhythm of La Mer at first disappointed these supporters, but the work has become a classic of illustrative music, and its strong structural sense, more symphonic than sketchy, prevents it from being merely a sequence of impressions.
While Ravel, Debussy’s younger contemporary, is well known for his masterly orchestral writing, all his orchestral pieces were written first for piano. His Rapsodie espagnole (1908) in fact draws on a much earlier piano piece for its third movement, the Habanera, and the whole work was composed as a piano duet and subsequently orchestrated. Evocations of Spain had been a popular feature in French music since the time of Bizet’s Carmen, thirty years before, but Ravel’s musical Spain (which he explored in a number of other works) immediately convinced the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla as ‘subtly genuine’ when he first heard the Rapsodie.
[28 мая 2002 г.]
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Debussy & Ravel