Music of Impressionism: What Was the Music Wafting Around Those Water Lillies?
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 even felt it was 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.
So the new music of composers like Claude Debussy or Maurice Ravel was rejected at first.
Thankfully Debussy and Ravel persisted anyway. They thrived despite the opinion of the critics. Indeed the two wisely chose to reflect and inspire each other. They maintained a productive, friendly rivalry.
A rivalry that subsequently formed much of the music that was to become a movement.
A movement that would later be called Musical Impressionism.
Consequently, 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.
Yet if you listen to our first track, “Petite Suite” by Debussy you may experience that same feeling you get when standing in front of an actual Monet, Renoir, Degas or Van Gogh in person.
Similarly the same holds true with my second selection, “Bolero” by Ravel.
“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.
For example, my third pick Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” as well as my fourth, Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” can transport you into a musical world without boundaries.
Quite a first impression.
Music historians agree that Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was the first Impressionist composer. Moreover, Debussy 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 seems like it lay in making timeless music.
Debussy’s Most Important Work For Orchestra
Even though my fifth track choice, Debussy’s “La Mer”, received a mixed reception at its 1905 premiere, it went on to become one of his most admired and performed works for orchestra.
Debussy wrote “La Mer” with the enormous power of the sea in mind. And indeed this is a tour de force of melodic fury.
Debussy’s Most Romantic Composition
Another of Debussy’s beloved and enchanting compositions often heard in film and television is my sixth selection. 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!)
Similarly, Debussy’s friend Ravel composed a body of work we still here in films and television around the world today.
Reveling in Ravel
Music historians consider Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) to have been the greatest living composer in France during the 1920s and 1930s.
Ravel’s popularity was probably a result of his adherence to the same Impressionist esthetic we treasure in the works of Manet, Pizarro, and Cezanne.
Ravel’s Most Famous Work for Orchestra
Ravel is known by many for his universally acclaimed “Bolero”. But Ravel delighted music lovers with many other musical compositions, such as my seventh selection, Ravel’s 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
Our eighth musical selection is another popular Ravel composition that also conveys an early aspect of Musical Impressionism. It is Ravel’s 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 my ninth choice, Ravel’s Ma Mere L’oye (1910.)
As well as in tenth selection, 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.)
All things considered, art is in the eye of the beholder. It’s also in the ear of the beholder.
Whether or not you like classical music, this is beauty in melody.
Give Impressionist Music a try. Then spread the word.
My eleventh and twelfth picks, “Reverie” by Debussy and “Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte” by Ravel are personal favorites and a good place to start.
After that, 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.
About the author. In addition to being a freelance writer Gino Cirignano is also “The Computer Tutor,” offering one-to-one computer training at www.thecomputertutors.net.
You may like our post on 6 Great Italian Composers You’ve Never Heard Of.