Assignment Two- [Pt. II]- Listening Log- Impressionism – Four pieces of music

Claude Debussy’s ‘Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun’ (Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune) L. 86

One of the first fully formed pieces of music of the Impressionist genre was Debussy’s piece ‘Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun’. It was named and inspired by the poem, ‘The Afternoon of a Faun’ by Stephane Mallarmé. The poem tells of a slumbering faun dreaming of sensual encounters with several nymphs. The faun, on the cusp of waking, is not certain were his dream ends and reality begins.

Fig. 1. Fauntastic Poem (2017)

Claude Debussy’s Prelude, was supposed to be a triptych but only the Prelude was completed. It could be considered a Symphonic poem, following the seven sections of Mallarme’s poem with seven repetitions (or variations thereof) of the main flute theme, each time harmonised in a new and unconventional way. Mallarme’s 110 lines are matched by 110 bars of music.  (Davenant Performing Arts Dept, s.a)

The Faun’s flute theme opens with a tritone- ‘Diabolus in Musica’. (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, 2010)

The concept of the forbidden tritone was established by the old authorities of in the Middle Ages and prevailed to the end of the common practice period. It seems first to have been designated as a “dangerous” interval when Guido of Arezzo developed his system of hexachords and with the introduction of B flat as a diatonic note, at much the same time acquiring its nickname of “Diabolus in Musica” (“the devil in music”).  (Denis, 1983)

By the Romantic period composers such as Wagner and Liszt had started to use the dissonant interval frequently to express ‘evil’ and ominous atmospheres.

Debussy seized on this interval to symbolise his Faun. After all, what could be more appropriate for this decadent  goat God, this Pan? Decadence and Symbolism were closely interlinked at the time and Debussy undoubtedly wanted to rebel against the establishment with his refusal to conform to the teachings of functional harmony.

He created a deliberate sense of ambiguity and atonality. The key alluded to is E Major but this key is constantly undermined, with the first motif resolving to the dominant 7th of EbMajor. Then a whole tone section is introduced. Although the use of whole tone scales can be traced as far back as Bach it is fair to say that Debussy’s use became the most extensive and innovative to date.

Debussy used the timbre of the instruments to create very specific colours and to use new instrumentation combinations to create colour shifts. With a relatively small orchestra he managed to create a very rich tapestry of sound. The string parts were frequently divisi and various techniques such as ‘sur la touche’ were used.

The woodwind section with it’s flutes and the harps playing glissandi and the chorales all painted a very magical, pastural fantasy. Very much the scene of a Faun’s reveries.

Debussy definitively achieved the musical agility, lightness and subtleness of tone colour required to convey this dream state. It is so effective I find it near impossible to listen to this piece critically and stay in an analytical state of mind. I am constantly pulled into the music and drift away with it. A fully realised piece of music.

With this piece and with his music in general Debussy created a new musical language and new sonorities.

Strings were no longer only lyrical instruments and the use of woodwind colour and brass was extended also, to the point of each instrument having the prominence of a soloist. Chordal melodies, using parallel chords and fleshed out unisons, unprepared modulations alongside exotic ‘wholetone’ and pentatonic scales were the tools offering a new way of developing music without using functional harmony.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Lazic, S. (2017) Fauntastic Poem [Photograph] In: possession of: The author: Lazic.


Brown, M. (2012) Debussy Redux: The Impact of His Music on Popular Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Cooke, M. (2008) A history of film music.  [Kindle edition] From: Amazon. co. uk (Accessed on 9 March 2017)

Centre de documentation Claude Debussy. (s.d) Cashier Debussy. At: (Accessed on 1 April 2017)

Davenant Performing Arts Dept. (s.d) 5. Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. At: (Accessed on 20 April 2017)

Debussy, C. (2017) Debussy:  Prélude à ‘l’après-midi d’un faune’ / La Mer (1000 Years of Classical Music, Vol.63). [Download] Available at : Claude Debussy – Prélude à ‘L’Après-midi d’un Faune’, L.86 (Accessed on 6 April 2017)

Debussy, C. (1895) Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. In: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Paris: E. Fromont. [Online] At:,_Claude) (Accessed on 28 April 2017)

Denis, A. (1983) ‘Tritone’. In: The New Oxford Companion to Music, Volume 1: A–J : Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Devoto, M. (2004) Debussy And The Veil Of Tonality: Essays On His Music. New York: Pendragon Press.


Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (2010) [user-generated content online] Creat. Simmons, M. 4 October 2010 At: (Accessed on 20 April 2017)

Maurice Ravel’s ‘Ondine’ (movement I from ‘Gaspard de la nuit’ ) M. 55

Ondine is the first movement of Gaspard de la Nuit  (1908) set to three poems by Aloysius Bertrand. The first movement is about a water nymphs who tries, but fails, to seduce a human. Legend has it that Aloysius Bertrand received the story from the devil himself and that Ravel thought it appropriate that it would be devilishly difficult to play. Some say it’s thee most difficult solo piano piece of all time and there has been speculation of how Ravel, with his supposedly average piano skills, managed to conceive of it. Perhaps the devil whispered it in his ear?

Gaspard de la Nuit was premiered in Paris 1909, by Ricardo Viñes y Roda. Viñes was the piano virtuoso of the time and had helped introduce Russian composers to France. He had the technical skill to perform Gaspard de la Nuit and had introduced most of the significant pieces of the time to the French audience. The premier was reportedly a success, but Ravel himself found that Viñes had ‘pumped up’ the piece too much.

The technical difficulty in playing the piece is threefold, the underlying musical structure is unconventional, with several asymmetrical motifs, a breakneck speed and it also requires some challenging fingering techniques. When mastered correctly the cascading water effect is unmistakable.

The water falls, splashes, trickles, sprays and rises along with the nymphs emotions. The nymph’s feelings of playfulness soon transform into feelings of longing, desperation and finally rage as she fails to convince her human to join her in her oceanic kingdom.

“Listen! Listen! It is I; it is Ondine, who lightly brushes with water drops the resonant diamond-shaped panes of your window, lit by the dull rays of the moon; and here, in her silk dress, is the lady of the manor, who muses from her balcony on the beautiful starry night and on the lovely sleeping lake.” 5 “Each wave is an Ondine swimming in the current; each current is a pathway winding towards my palace; and my palace is built fluidly, in the depths of the lake, in the triangle of fire, earth, and water.” (Bertrand, 1842:61).

Like other Impressionistic works Ondine is polytonal and ambiguous in terms of key, with modernist harmonies. It does not follow a strict classical structure, although it is divided up into proportionate sections. The main melody is beautifully and longingly played as broken chords. The piece is extremely rhythmically complex and polyrhythmic. The rhythms embody Bertrand’s words by using all manner of ingenious sonorities and articulations. Ravel turns the piano into an entire orchestra. Never has a piano been used more expressively. The difference between Debussy and Ravel is evident in this piece. Ravel’s craftsmanship is astounding. He is a master orchestrator and here he shows how he can re-orchestrate a piano, using just a piano. It is an incredible and impressive achievement.

Fig. 1. Ravel Tile (2017)

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Lazic, S. (2017) Ravel Tile [Photograph] In: possession of: The author: Lazic.


Bertrand, A. (1842) Gaspard de la Nuit — Fantaisies à la manière de Rembrandt et de Callot. Translated by Wright,J. (1994) Maryland: University Press of America

Eccles, A. (2004) Gaspard de la nuit: Horror and Elegance. Stanford University. At: (Accessed on 1 March 2017)

Freed, R. (s.a) Gaspard de la nuit: About the Work. At: (Accessed on 1 March 2017)

Ivanchenko, O. (2015) Characteristics of Maurice Ravel’s Compositional Language as Seen trough the Texture of his Selected Piano Works and the Piano Suite “Gaspard de la Nuit”. [D.M.A.] University of Miami. At: (Accessed on 4 March 2017)

Johnston, B. (s.a) Gaspard de la nuit, for piano. At: (Accessed on 1 March 2017)

Nichols, R. (2011) Gaspard de la nuit. At: (Accessed on 1 March 2017)

Osborne, S. (2011) Steven Osborne: wrestling with Ravel.  At: (Accessed on 1 March 2017)

Ravel, M. (s.d) Maurice Ravel [Download] Available at : Maurice Ravel – Gaspard de la nuit, M. 55: I. Ondine (Accessed on 3 April 2017)

Yust, J. (2013) ‘Tonal Prisms: Iterated Quantization in Chromatic Tonality and Ravel’s “Ondine”’ In: Journal of Mathematics and Music 7/2 (2013), 145–165 [online] At:  (Accessed on 1 March 2017)

Manuel de Falla’s ‘Nights in the Gardens of Spain’ (Noches en los jardines de España), G. 49

Manuel de Falla was born in Cádiz, Spain. His mother taught him piano and he took  harmony and counterpoint lessons. He learned to love opera at an early age and was constantly surrounded by local folk music and flamenco.

In his twenties he enrolled in Madrid’s Royal Conservatory and became a competent pianist. However, it wasn’t until meeting the musicologist Felipe Pedrell that he developed a unique style of his own.

Pedrell had started to shine a light on the beauty and musical validity of Spanish folk music. He also delved into the rich national musical heritage harking all way back to the polyphony of the Spanish Renaissance. Essentially, he unearthed the national music identity which had been forgotten. (Schwarz, 2003)

Manuel took to this new found identity and started incorporating elements of Spanish folk songs like cante jondo and dance rhythms found in flamenco and jota.

In 1907 Falla went to Paris and what was supposed to have been a short stay turned into a seven year long stint. There he came into contact with Impressionism and  Modernism. He became friends with Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. Thus a new style or sub-genre was born. It was a distinctly Spanish Impressionism.

At the start of the first world war Falla was forced to return to Madrid. There he set consolidating some of his solo piano works into a large work for piano and orchestra. The composition became what is now known as the masterpiece ‘Nights in the Gardens Spain’.

The first movement (out of three) is named Generalife, after the garden of the Alhambra Palace. The second is ”Distant Dance,” and is entered around rhythm. The third movement is titled  “In the Gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba”

Having spent some time in both the Alhambra and Generalife I can truly say that I never expected a piece of music to be able to capture and express the atmosphere in this place. It is so enchanted and mystical. Steeped in Moorish thought and culture. A uniquely Andalusian experience. I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. Falla manages to capture the essence of the place.

He does so by using the Phrygian mode and flamenco cante jondo techniques, which are vocal incantations with quick appoggiatura or pitch sliding up to the note. It has a uniquely Spanish flavour.  According to Falla himself  he used instruments of the orchestra to imitate the sound of flamenco guitar and woodwind to emulate joint singing. He deliberately used various folk dance and flamenco rhythms to solidify the Spanish-ness of composition.

It payed off. The work was a huge success at the Madrid premier in April 1916 and it was later well received when premiered in London. To this day it remains a staple of the classical repertoire.


Falla, M.d. (s.d) Manuel de Falla. [Download] Available at : Manuel de Falla – Noches en los Jardines de España: I. En el Generalife  (Accessed on 2 March 2017)

Schwarz, G. (2003) De Falla / Musically Speaking / Nights in the Gardens of Spain / The Three Cornered Hat / with Conductor’s Guide. At: Gerard Schwarz conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (Accessed on 13 March 2017)

Ernest Fanelli’s ‘Tableaux symphoniques d’apres le Roman de la Momie’ (1883/1886)

Ernest Fanelli was born and died in Paris (1860 – 1917). He briefly attended the Paris Conservatoire, but was expelled. He was also rumoured to have studied with the experimental composer  Charles-Valentin Alkan, but these rumours have not been substantiated. In effect, Ernest Fanelli was self taught and his works did not see the light of day until finally discovered in 1912, by Pierné. By this time Fanelli had long since stopped composing and was supporting himself as a musician and copyist.

What is remarkable about Fanelli’s music is that it developed in virtual isolation and in some ways ‘predicted’ Impressionism. This lead to much controversy when figures such as Debussy were accused of having stolen from Fanelli. Debussy even took to avoiding him. Fanelli himself did not court this controversy and was not interested in getting sucked into a feud. However, none of this gossip worked in his favour and he quickly sank back into obscurity.

The elements of Fanelli’s music which are reminiscent of Impressionism is the extensive use of uneven meters, the ‘wholetone’ scale and augmented triads and various atonal and polytonal devises later popularised by Debussy. Tone and colour take a front seat too. There is also plenty that sets his music apart. It’s  altogether starker, harsher and more aggressive.

Only one of his works (divided into two parts) survive today; Tableaux symphoniques d’apres le Roman de la Momie (1882 – 1883, and 1886) which is based on Théophile Gautier’s novel Le Roman de la momie (‘Romance of the Mummy’).

The Tableaux starts in Egypt at the time of Ramses II where a young girl is forcibly abducted and married to the Pharaoh. She eventually becomes the Queen of Egypt and as such is buried in Pharao’s tomb upon her death. When the tomb is uncovered In the 19th Century one of the excavators falls in love with her mummy.

Part I, Thèbes, is in three movements. Uncharacteristically for the time it opens with the mezzo-soprano Lydia Drahosova, harps and percussion. Gongs, bass drum rolls, crashes are beaten repeatedly and relentlessly. The music is aggressive and epic in a similar way to modern day action/adventure film scores. Comparisons to some of Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock scores are inevitable. There are also similarities to Respighi. It does make me wonder if these composers had come across Fanelli. (Lace, 2002)

My own impression of Fanelli’s music is coloured by the time I live in. To me, it simply sounds like film music. It is often bombastic and overblown. It lacks the sensitivity of Debussy and Ravel, but it is nevertheless very effective in setting a scene and evoking an exotic landscape. I could so easily see it as the soundtrack to a Hollywood fantasy blockbuster. A highly enjoyable adventure…


Cooke, M. (2008) A history of film music.  [Kindle edition] From: Amazon. co. uk (Accessed on 9 March 2017)

Fanelli, E. (s.d) Ernest Fanelli. [Download] Available at : Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra – D’apres Le Roman De La Momie: I. Thebes: Devant Le Palais De Tahoser – Lydia Drahosova, Mezzo-soprano (Accessed on 6 April 2017)

Lace, I. (2002)  Ernest FANELLI (1860-1917) Symphonic Pictures: ‘The Romance of the Mummy’.  At: (Accessed on 17 April 2017)

Lewis, D. (s.d) Ernest Fanelli: Artist Biography by Uncle Dave Lewis. At: (Accessed on 23 February 2017)