Recorded on 05/09/2009, uploaded on 09/22/2011
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Though Debussy’s music for piano is defined by his mature Impressionistic works, such as Clair de lune, the 24 Préludes and Children’s Corner, each marked with examples of astonishing imagery and startling beauty, the two Arabesques composed in 1890 are a couple of his earliest pieces to maintain a place in the repertoire. Debussy himself was trained as a pianist at the prestigious Paris Conservatoire, yet he was apprehensive to compose for the medium. It would not be until the publication of his Suite bergamasque (incidentally begun the same year as the Arabesques) in 1905 that he established himself as formidable composer for the piano. Nevertheless, the Arabesques, particularly the first, are an insight into the developing voice of the composer that would come to define French Impressionism in music. While harmonically, these two short works are less complex and adventurous than his later works, one can easily discover the tendency towards the higher dominant discords, parallel movement between chords, and luscious tone-painting that would mark the mature composer’s style.
The first arabesque, in E major and perhaps the best known of the two, opens with descending chords of the sixth in parallel motion, a harmonic movement that returns at an important moment before the close of the piece. Out of this unfolds the principal melody, lyrical and serene, while the arpeggiated chords take their place in the left hand as accompaniment. The central episode, changing to the key of A major, is of a somewhat different character. Developed out of a motif from the opening section, the episode presents a clearer picture, despite its rubato tempo, than the blurred lines of the previous music. The melody remains lyrical, but gone is the arpeggiated accompaniment and in its place appears definitive chords that give solidarity to the music. Culminating this section is a resolute statement of the episode’s motif in C major. From this climax, Debussy quickly returns to the tonic and the recapitulation of the dreamy music from the beginning of the piece. As a means of transitioning to the piece’s coda, Debussy introduces a lengthy (over an octave) descending stepwise bass, harmonized with the parallel progression heard at the beginning and embellished with elegant suspensions. From this point, he equally draws out the final cadence and concludes the Arabesque with a heavenly ascent through the tonic triad. Joseph DuBose
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