|Monet's painting of water lilies is deliberately vague, but through color and shading he creates the impression of flowers, clouds, and reflections.||1917|
IMPRESSIONISM is named for the movement in art history which favored the representation of the "idea" of an object rather than the object itself; where light and color, rather than line and shape, define the images. Musical Impressionism also has a strong connection to symbolist poetry (as seen in the works of Charles Baudelaire and Stephane Mallarme). In the art, poetry, and music of Impressionism we find a common thread: an evocation of meaning without direct reference to reality. Impressionism is the recollection of memories where details give way to general impressions. This often results in a general cloudiness or vagueness in presentation since clearly delineated objects or ideas would provide a strong connection to reality.
In musical Impressionism, seen almost exclusively in the music of Claude Debussy, this means we find an obscuration of tonality, harmony, and rhythm. Tonality is vague, often defined only by pedal points. Counterpoint, the great defining feature of the Common Practice Period, is virtually non-existent; this is one of the greatest revolutions of the 20th century, and truly creates a definitive break from the past.
Impressionism in music seemed to have been dead-ended; even Debussy appeared to be moving in a different direction before his death in 1918. But the concepts developed in this style continue to influence composers even today.
Read more information about Impressionism at Impressionist Influences in the Music of Claude Debussy on the web.
41.2 COMPOSERS ASSOCIATED WITH IMPRESSIONISM
41.3 MUSICAL ELEMENTS
In the Common Practice Period: The essential organization is around a single pitch, the tonic, which provides a home base to the ear. All other pitches work to establish the pre-eminence of tonic. Furthermore, an organization of phrases (generally made up of 4, 8, or 16 measures) expand the establishment of tonic; all phrases end with a cadence which confirms this sense of tonic.
In the Common Practice Period: The essential vocabulary is a diatonic pattern of seven stepwise pitches called major and minor scales. Chromatic pitches, the remaining five, can be used, but only to enhance the diatonic ones.
In the Common Practice Period: The essential texture is created with counterpoint, which is two or more simultaneous individual and independent lines, each of which confirms the pre-eminence of tonic and utilizes the vocabulary of a major or minor scale.
Planing can be done diatonically (within the key), or chromatically, to preserve consistent sonorities (a good example of the free chromaticism mentioned above).
The unit of planing (the harmonic structure which keeps repeating) can be any harmonic structure, such as tertian triads, tertian tetrads (as seen in the example above), or quartal harmonies as explained in the next section, and must remain the same for an extended period of time (such as most of a phrase).
None of these devices contributes an independent voice to the texture.
In the Common Practice Period: The essential sonority (chord) is consonant and is a group of three notes (a triad) arranged in thirds (tertian). Dissonance is used, which could be a group of four notes arranged in thirds (a tertian tetrad) or non-chordal embellishments (passing and neighboring tones, suspensions, and pedals, among others). All dissonances are required to resolve.
Note that the pitch content beat-for-beat is identical for the two examples above; even though the stacking of 4ths and 5ths are organized differently, it does not change the pitch content.
Quartal and quintal harmonies can also be made up of 4 notes (tetrads), 5 notes (pentads), and more, and can be inverted (like tertian harmonies).
In the Common Practice Period: The essential time organization is based on simple or compound meters, with 2, 3, or 4 consistent beats per measure. The first beat is always the strongest, and the others take on various degrees of strength.
Write an Impressionistic piece for piano, one page or less, which is a complete musical thought of at least two irregular phrases of at least 5 measures. Consider the musicality of your work; Debussy usually employs thin, somewhat spare textures. While there is much dissonance, the overwhelming effect is one of consonance. Play back your work on the computer through MIDI (or better yet, have someone perform it for you on the piano) to guide you. The final result must be playable.
To prepare this writing assignment properly, use the notation guidelines appendix, located at Basic Principles of Music Notation, Semester IV.
Submit a MIDI file via email in addition to a print-out of the project.
The grading for this project:
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