Harmonic Ingenuity of Debussy:– REBOOT!


Any followers of Melodic Traditions may remember the beginnings of a work on the analysis of a Debussy piece: ‘Arabesque No.1’.  Initially, I chose to pull these pieces from the blog and discontinue the work at the present time in order to avoid any ‘self plagiarism’ issues which could arise from later submitting a piece based on the same topic matter as part of my Music MA programme.  This is now submitted, graded and forgotten, so I’m free to publish to my hearts content!

Debussy is an interesting composer when it comes to harmonic analysis, as he is a composer frequently associated with atonalism yet seemingly removed from it. His music, however experimental, seems to be constructed largely of ‘conventional’ harmonic language and although he certainly experimented with atonalism and associated compositional styles, in his lifetime he rejected the label of ‘atonal’. His music has a distinct character which seems to pass through time and harmonic function at its own discretion.  In spite of this he seems to be able to compose music that blurs the lines of convention so thoroughly that it becomes difficult to classify what may initially seem overt.

This series of blog posts will analyse a significant early work of his lifetime (Arabesque No.1) with the goal of achieving a greater understanding of not only how Debussy uses his tonal vocabulary to write such transparent music, but also to make observations on how early developments in his life would influence the course of his later career.

Listen to the piece and please get involved in discussion as the analysis develops! Feel free to ask any kind of questions related to the articles in the comments section, and if there are any aspects of the analysis you would like to see explored more thoroughly, please request it.

Until next time!


3 thoughts on “Harmonic Ingenuity of Debussy:– REBOOT!

  1. I was absolutely enthralled by your approach to this magical piece. As a veteran tutor for matric students writing short papers along with their recitals, I will show my present Arabesque #1 student your ideas and the cool animation along with it. Now somewhat passe, but enchanting nonetheless is Tomita’s masterly electronic rendering of about 12 Debussy pieces incl this Arabesque which came out in c.1973-4 and which is hard to find today. Originally a record, entitled “The snowflakes are dancing,” it became later available on CD. If you haven’t encountered it, it’s an eye-opener, but definitely not for purists.
    Again many thanks.


    • Hello! Thank you for your wonderful feedback and recommendation. I will check out this electronic rendering (I am a huge fan of the ‘Switched On Bach’ record by Walter/Wendy Carlos!).

      I’ve been extremely busy with my session musicianship lately but I am now re-embarking on this blog/series, so I hope that you will enjoy the future articles as much as these early ones! Please continue to interact and feel free to make requests as to the direction of the study, as it makes the whole experience more interesting and useful for all parties involved!


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