Claude Debussy, piano

Teaching the Language of Debussy in Reverie

Yesterday afternoon I found myself mentoring a student about the nuances of a composer’s language and style in the Impressionist genre.

Claude Debussy’s Reverie, with its palette of blended colors was on display–naturally intoned in vowels rather than consonants, while its liquid phrases begged for supple wrist and relaxed arm infusions of energy. My pupil’s steely bright Yamaha upright piano which was far from the purr–fect vehicle for the creation of a veiled effect, had to be “tamed” through compensatory physical motions. These precluded any form of an articulated legato that would upset the outflow of horizontal lines.

As the lesson unfolded, the activity of SINGING–(myself and pupil echoing measures between California and North Carolina) provided the most significant translation of how we could shape notes/phrases without obtrusive accents. Through many repetitions in the opening bars and a bit beyond, we accomplished incremental refinement that was satisfying for its progress toward natural grace and fluidity. In addition, prompts fueling the imagination filtered down to the keyboard in soft, cushioned landings, advancing expressive playing.

The exchange, captured on video, communicated far more than words could express.

Below is a prior “dreamy” teaching encounter that explored rolling arpeggios in Reverie’s bass, with an infused harmonic analysis.

***

Finally, here’s an additional sample of Debussy’s veiled expression wrapped in tonal colors:

The Girl with the Flaxen Hair.

Claude Debussy, Debussy, piano blog

Reviewing Debussy’s Arabesque 1 with its Impressionist palette

It’s been years since I learned Claude Debussy’s coloristic Arabesque No. 1, so my recent revisit was a reminder of how a solid learning foundation can deepen a musical reconnection.

Reviewing an “old” piece brings a renewed opportunity to delve into its character, form, structure, harmonic flow, phrasing, etc. while keeping an open mind about fingering choices. Fundamental “housekeeping” revisions may spring from experiences with music of diverse eras that have widened a music learner’s horizons on technical and musical levels.

The counterpoint of J.S. Bach, for example, spills into the “voicing” arena, even as we advance the clock 200 years to a musical period that embraces moods, colors, and blurred harmonies. We cross-reference and cross-fertilize as we practice Baroque Inventions, Preludes, Fugues; Classical era sonatas; Romantic period repertoire, and explore a rich repository of tonalities intermingled with dissonance. The journeys, regardless of historical period, are complementary.

Naturally, teaching a particular composition is another form of revisit that stretches our perspective and ripens our understanding of a composition.

The Debussy Arabesque No. 1, has been part of my learning and mentoring archive for years, yet this latest dip into its palette of colors produced new awakenings. With a long held embrace of layered learning, that included very slow tempo practicing, framed by a singing-tone, and seamless legato, I savored this latest journey of discovery.

Play Through:

Claude Debussy, Debussy, Debussy Arabesque no. 1, El Cerrito piano studio, piano, piano playing, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, you tube, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Debussy Arabesque No. 1 blends well with East Bay seascapes (Video)

I couldn’t resist the temptation to embed Bay panoramas in a Debussy soundtrack. It followed my journey along the scenic Amtrak 711 route.

A new set of vistas were framed by a whizzing train’s marred window. Yet the mood paintings managed to sift through an imperfect lens.

Once I had settled into my El Cerrito piano studio, I played the exquisitely formed Arabesque No. 1 on my Hamilton Baldwin in readiness for a music/photo art match-up.

About the Composer:

From Wiki:

“Achille-Claude Debussy (22nd August 1862 – 25th March 1918) was a French composer. He was one of the most important figures in music at the turn of the last century; with his music representing the transition from late-romantic to 20th century.

“Debussy’s most dramatic contribution to music history was his disregard for traditional chord structures and tonality. An exponent of the whole tone scale, his pieces would also not adhere to a strict meter or rhythm. They flowed extemporaneously with suggestions of extra-musical images.

“Adventurous harmonies influenced the rise of jazz music later in the 20th century.”

**

The Arabesque No. 1, Debussy’s earliest composition, together with its companion no. 2, enliven the imagination with an overlay of clouds, mist–a wash of color, and rolling, wavy phrases that intermingle with oceanic currents.

Yet ‘Arabesque’ specifically “referred to undulating, tendril-like ornaments of Arabic and Islamic art which coincided with an age in which this form was in full flower. It obeyed the laws of beauty inscribed in every movement of nature.” (Notes to Barenreiter edition)

(The melody with its improvised character, is richly embroidered. Triplets against four 8th notes in the bass, create a dualism of pleasing contours, though the figures are difficult to realize.)

Finally, Debussy, a harmonic innovator, used the whole tone scale, as well as 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and more compounded chords to engage the listener and draw him into a universe of rich sonority and color.

My mixed-media sample:

Claude Debussy, Debussy, Debussy Preludes, Ena Bronstein, Ena Bronstein Barton, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube video, yout tube, youtube.com

Ena Bronstein, pianist, plays Debussy’s “Feux D’artifice” (recorded “live” in concert)

A further blend of music and seascapes, not to mention muted swans.

Ena Bronstein was my former teacher in Fresno before she departed for the East Coast. Currently, she’s on the faculty of Westminster Choir College of Rider University, Princeton, N.J.

LINK:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/virtuosity-and-poetry-in-motion-hallmark-ena-bronsteins-musical-return-to-fresno/

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Piano Technique: Playing beyond the fingers to sculpt beautiful phrases (Debussy Arabesque no. 1)

Many piano students who practice Debussy’s Arabesque no. 1 tend to grab and articulate notes, rather than let them flow from energy streaming down relaxed arms into supple wrists.

Reliance on fingers-down playing becomes the panacea for accuracy, while it sacrifices poetic musical expression.

In the video below, I demonstrate how phrases can be sculpted with a relaxed, supple wrist, that moves up, down, and rotates from side-to-side when needed. It can even draw little circles of motion to curve musical lines.

Above and beyond the wrist is the central fuel provider: arms free of tension.

In harmony with undulating wrists, they realize an Impressionistic palette of rolling arpeggios and melted cadences that characterize Debussy’s music.

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One of my favorite quotes from Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney Chase pertains to beautiful phrasing:

“You can learn much from nature. Take a moment to look at a tree. Find the branch that is moving the most quietly. Feel how it might feel, as though a gentle breeze is moving your hands. Your hands may sway gently, back and forth, similar to the way a branch moves. Let this feeling move into your arms, enabling them to increase their span of movement and change direction. Imagine that the breeze is carrying your hands on gently curving paths of air currents. You are releasing your expression through your own individualized choreography of movement.”

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Debussy Arabesque No. 1 and the back story (Video)

Speaking of pianos, and decisions about which to use, I decided to give Haddy Haddorff another opportunity to sing like a nightingale. This was a late-into-the-night sound exploration following an earlier trip to the Mac Store at Fresno’s Fashion Fair Mall. The Yeti mic was not registering–no sound–no explanation, though it was properly connected.

So I shut down the computer, re-booted and checked for updates. It didn’t matter. Still mute despite visual sound waves galore.

Another lingering problem– the intermittent though disturbing, out of synch frames–an issue finally acknowledged by a Mac technician, who declared, “It may be related to the iMovie program.”

So what’s next?

I guess I’ll wait for the next update as I watch my hands and the music run off in different directions.

Meanwhile, I was given a new Yeti Mic, since the older one didn’t register at the store.(better than a squeak in a pedal disappearing when the tuner waltzes in) This time I had the upfront and personal evidence.

I came home, practiced, and found myself wandering from the Steinway back to Haddy playing the Debussy Arabesque 1.

The grand piano afforded a nice work-out because the action is stiff by comparison to Ms. Haddy. So if you hang around the Steinway long enough and then mosey over to the second piano, the playing is a piece of cake by comparison. It resulted in a smooth transition to the Debussy Arabesque No. 1 without instrumental resistance.

Maybe it’s not a bad idea to have a work-out piano until the knots are addressed. (I’m waiting for the Magical Messiah tech to appear)

Next year in Jerusalem?

***

It was well after midnight when I managed to upload the Debussy.

Yeti mic was humming, though a tad out of synch with my arms and hands.

Up at 5 a.m., I hoped nothing had imploded during my zzzzzs, and was pleasantly relieved to see the posting. It came with some kind of message that the rights to the Debussy were owned by some entity and such.

“GoDigital MG For a Third Party Content Type: Musical Composition”

You just never whose domain you’re trampling on.

It’s getting so bad now that these companies own Chopin and other composers who died over 150 years ago.

That’s worth another blog and a half.

So stay tuned….

RELATED:

Debussy Arabesque Instruction


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/piano-instruction-debussy-arabesque-no-1-video/

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A Piano Lesson in progress: Debussy Arabesque No. 1

Students find it helpful to revisit parts of their lessons on video. They can pinpoint ways of practicing in baby steps by separating hands, parceling out voices, and shaping phrases.

Yesterday, an adult student and I worked on the first section of the Debussy “Arabesque,” No. 1, and focused most of our attention on counting through measures, phrasing, voice balance, and playing 3 against 2.

Part One:

Part Two: