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.

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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:

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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?

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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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Piano Instruction: Part Two Debussy Arabesque, No. 1, Teacher, Shirley Kirsten (Video #2)

Part two transitions to A Major. (The composition is in E Major) and has a different character though motifs and ideas from the opening section intersperse this portion of the Arabesque.

A very noteworthy change that occurs with the modulation to A Major, is a prevalence of chords, some of which move homophonically (in the same rhythm) with a hymn-like character.

Once the triplets intertwine this section and the rest of the piece, the player has to be aware that this thread gives unity to the whole work.

On the last page an Extension or Coda appear at which point the bass line and tenor descend in a most beautiful mosaic against the melody.

At the very last line of the composition an opposite ascent of triplet figures divided between the hands, gracefully concludes the work as they wisp away after a preceding swell or crescendo.

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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.

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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:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/piano-instruction-part-two-debussy-arabesque-no-1-teacher-shirley-kirsten-video-2/


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

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/piano-instruction-schumann-arabesque-op-18-using-a-supple-wrist-follow-through-motion-and-parceling-out-voices-video/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/piano-instruction-avoiding-injuries-using-butterfly-by-edvard-grieg-as-a-slow-practicing-example-video/