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Piano Instruction: Debussy Arabesque No. 1 (Video)–and playing through the whole composition

I first came to know this piece when a fifth grader at P.S. 122 in the Bronx was selected to play it at our student assembly. The ebb and flowing beauty of this work was so poignant, that I stored it away in my memory until I was able to personally experience this composition years later as a student.


The Debussy Arabesque no. 1 is a composition from the Impressionist era of musical composition. (late 19th Century following the Romantic period) Debussy and Ravel were the hallmark French composers of the time.

Apparently, the two Arabesques were the first works Debussy had ever composed for the piano, so they had immense historical significance.

The vocabulary of Debussy’s music is rich in harmonic dimension. The composer uses 7ths, 9ths, 11th and more, while he intersperses whole tone progressions that are so characteristic of his writing.

One can use more pedal when playing Debussy and not worry about perfectly pure sounding lines, though in this particular composition, special care must be taken to shape and contour phrases so they aren’t blurred and over-pedaled.

If density or volume ever applied to musical performance, this piece meets all requirements for a slow entry into notes, and a swimming motion through them.

The video below suggests ways to approach the composition, following the harmonic rhythm, bass line notes, and rolling broken-chord patterns. The player must have relaxed arms, a supple wrist, and be immersed in wave-like musical forms.

I have first played it through from beginning to end before discussing part 1:

First section:

Playing the triplets against 8ths:

Video Part Two:

RELATED for use of supple wrists and floating arms along with rotation:

6 thoughts on “Piano Instruction: Debussy Arabesque No. 1 (Video)–and playing through the whole composition”

  1. Thank you very much for an informative and interesting two part run down of this beautiful piece of music. I’m especially interested in this piece currently as I’m carrying out my own harmonic analysis at the moment. Do you have any personal insights into how the bass motion relates to the harmony as the music passes through the E section in parallel thirds? (just before the change in key signature to A), or indeed, harmonic insights to this whole passage?

    I’ll share a link to the most recent article I’ve posted on this piece myself, in case you are interested. In it I discus the series of 5 bars starting from bar 3 on the second page, I found these bars in particular to be of great interest:

    If you have any thoughts or questions, please leave a comment, I’ll share a link to your articles in a future post.



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