Music of Impressionism: Impressions From Monet to Ravel
Guest Post by Gino Cirignano
Who couldn’t love Monet, Degas or Renoir?
Well, some of the most prominent art critics of the time didn’t.
They saw impressionist work as radical. An affront to the sensibilities.
Fortunately for art lovers everywhere, it didn’t stop the avant-garde movement of Impressionist painting from taking off.
Did you know painters weren’t the only creative geniuses being frowned upon by the European art critics at that time?
Many music critics of the era were longtime Wagner fans.
And the new music of composers Claude Debussy or Maurice Ravel was rejected at first.
Thankfully Debussy and Ravel persisted anyway.
They inspired each other while maintaining a friendly rivalry.
Debussy and Ravel were part of a movement that would later be called Musical Impressionism.
Eventually, Musical Impressionism won over many critics.
What Did the Music of Impressionism Sound Like? Sample These 12 Tracks to Find Out
Musical impressionism used moods and emotions to paint a soundscape.
Interestingly, both Debussy and Ravel rejected being labeled “Impressionist” composers.
But if you listen to “Petite Suite” by Debussy or “Bolero” by Ravel, you may experience that same feeling you get when seeing an actual Monet, Renoir, Degas or Van Gogh in person; the feeling of being blown away by sheer artistry.
“Petite Suite” and “Bolero” are now classical music standards because they create a mood or an impression of a time, place, moment or feeling universal to all.
The raw emotions expressed within these sonic landscapes are mesmerizing examples of Musical Impressionism.
Both Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” and Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” can transport you into a musical world without boundaries.
Quite a first impression.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918), universally acknowledged as the first Impressionist composer, is now considered one of the most influential composers of the late 19thand early 20thcenturies.
The prodigy entered the Conservatoire de Paris ( the leading musical institution in France) at the age of ten!
Debussy’s genius was making timeless music.
Debussy’s Most Important Work For Orchestra
“La Mer” premiered in 1905 and received a mixed reception, but eventually became one of his most admired and performed works for orchestra.
Written with the enormous power of the sea in mind, this is a tour de force of melodic fury.
Debussy’s Most Romantic Composition
Often heard in movies and on television, another of Debussy’s beloved and enchanting compositions is the lovely “Clair de Lune” (1890).
(By the way, the above link for “Clair de Lune” is from a 1913 piano roll with Debussy himself playing the piano!)
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was considered the greatest living composer in France during the 1920s and 1930s.
And like Debussy, his body of work is revered and found on playlists around the world.
The popularity of both composers can be traced to the same Impressionist esthetic we treasure in the works of Manet, Pizarro, and Cezanne.
Ravel’s Most Famous Work For Orchestra
Known by many for the universally acclaimed “Bolero” (1928), he delighted music lovers with many other musical compositions, such as the complex orchestral work “Daphnis et Chloe” (1912).
This passionate suite shows how Ravel embraced Impressionism. (Though Ravel himself would be loath to admit it).
Ravel’s Most Hypnotic Musical Foray
Another popular Ravel composition, which conveys an early aspect of his Impressionism is his very first orchestral rhapsody, Rapsodie Espagnole (1907-1908).
This musical magic carpet ride has beautifully layered textures.
The Japanese Influence on The Music of Impressionism
Music popular in Japan at the time influenced both Ravel and Debussy.
You can hear reflections of this in Ma Mere L’oye (1910) by Ravel.
This is also true in Debussy’s Estampes No. 1 Pagodes.
The Japanese style used musical scales and various modes that intrigued these European composers.
Culture (and I don’t mean the Kardashian’s.)
Whether or not you like classical music, this is beauty in melody.
Art is in the eye of the beholder. It’s also in the ear of the beholder.
Why overlook music just because it’s labeled “classical” or even “classic?”
Give Impressionist Music a try. Then spread the word.
“Reverie” by Debussy and “Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte” by Ravel are personal favorites and a good place to start.
Later on, if you want to buy an album, maybe pick one that features both of these innovative composers:
Help yourself to this one hundred and two-track epic, “Debussy & Ravel: Orchestral Works by Jean Martinon” or “Ravel: Boléro & Debussy: La Mer by Berlin Philharmonic & Herbert von Karajan”
We are talking food for the soul here, people.