88078239 tonality and form in debussys faunes prelude

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Tonality and Form in Debussy's "Prelude a 'L'Apres-midi d'un faune" Author(s): Matthew Brown Source: Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 127-143 Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society for Music Theory Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/745811 Accessed: 23/06/2009 15:21Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=ucal. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

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and Form in Debussy's Tonality d'un faune" "L'Apres-midiBrown MatthewSeventy-five years after his death, Debussy is often remembered as "the quiet revolutionary," who breathed new life into musical art.1 He is credited with challenging the authority of nineteenth-century tonal and formal practice, and with pushing music gently into the twentieth century. To quote Pierre Boulez: Just as modern poetry surely took root in certain of Baudelaire's poems, so one is justifiedin saying that modern music was awakened by L'Apres-midi d'un faune.2 For his part, Debussy did much to promote this radical image of his music; throughout his letters and journal articles, he launched a bitter campaign against the musical establishment and conventional compositional practice. Most of these criticisms are general in nature, and ridicule what Debussy saw



as a "silly obsession with overprecise 'forms' and 'tonality.' "3 Sometimes, however, they address concrete musical issues. For example, Debussy denounced accepted notions of chord function; in a letter to Pierre Louys (22 January 1895), he announced that "tonic and dominant had become empty shadows of use only to stupid children."4 Similarly, Debussy rejected the traditional distinctions between consonance and dissonance. With typical panache he insisted: Nothing is more mysterious than a consonant chord! Despite all theories, both old and new, we are still not sure, first, why it is consonant, and second, why the other chordshave to bear the stigma of being dissonant.5

1See chapter 1 of Arthur Wenk's book Claude Debussy and TwentiethCenturyMusic (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983), 1-19; and Pierre Boulez, Relevdsd'apprenti,ed. Paul Thevenin (Paris: Seuil, 1966), 336. I would like to thank various people for helpful suggestions, especially Jennifer Williams Brown, David Grayson, MarieRolf, Arnold Whittall,and the two anonymous readers for this journal. 2PierreBoulez, Notes to CBS Record 32 11 0056, quoted in Glenn Watkins, Soundings (New York: Schirmer, 1988), 75.

3See Debussy, "Musicin the Open Air," La Revue blanche, 1 June 1901, in Francois Lesure, ed. Claude Debussy: Monsieur Croche et autres dcrits (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), 45; Francois Lesure and Richard LanghamSmith, eds. and trans., Debussy on Music (New York: Knopf, 1977), 41. 4FrancoisLesure, ed., Claude Debussy: Lettres1884-1918 (Paris: Hermann, 1980), 70-73; Francois Lesure and Roger Nichols, eds. and trans., Debussy Letters (Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1987), 76-77. SDebussy,"A propos de 'Muguette'.-Au ConcertLamoureux,"Gil blas, 23 March 1903, in Lesure, ed., MonsieurCroche, 129-30; Lesure and Smith, Debussy on Music, 155. I have changed the translationsof the words parfait and imparfait.


MusicTheory Spectrum Is it not our duty ... to try andfindthe symphonic formulae best suitedto the audacious discoveries our moderntimes, so comof mittedas theyareto progress? century aeroplanes a right has The of to a musicof its own!9 Besides disdaining textbook formal stereotypes, so Debussy also praised composers, such as Mussorgsky, whose works "are impossible to relate to (the) accepted forms-the 'official' ones."10 Intentions are one thing, but actualities are often quite another matter. While Debussy's radical goals are hard to deny, we may still wonder whether he succeeded in freeing himself from common-practice tonality and nineteenthcentury formal conventions. Did Debussy really create symphonic forms fit for "the century of aeroplanes"? Obviously, any answerto this question depends on the way in which we decide to explain tonality and on the kinds of analytical priorities we make in assigning formal functions. Although there are many possible theories of tonality, this paper will use Schenkerian theory. This decision, however, requires some explanation. In particular, it contradicts the prevailing view that Debussy's music cannot be analyzed by strict Schenkerian paradigms. Surely, Schenker would have disapproved;he made no secret of his dislike for Debussy's music. In the preface to his edition of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in A Major, Op. 101, he complained that the sequences of sounds found in impressionistpieces are valuable as "an acousticphenomenon, but certainlynot as art."1'Else9Lesure, Monsieur Croche, 241; Lesure and Smith, Debussy on Music, 297. 'oLesure,MonsieurCroche,29; Lesure and Smith, Debussyon Music, 21. ""Von einer gewissen 'Linie' sprechen heute gern auch die Verfertiger Stiicke. Wo aber, wie in diesen, die Wirkung sogenannterimpressionistischer erst auf ein Tongerauschhinauslauft(das wie jedes Gerauschnur als akustische Erscheinung, aber noch nicht als Kunst gilt), dort sagt die 'Linie' des Tongerauschesgewiss nicht mehr die Linien als die steigend, fallend ja auch in anderenGerauschen(z.B. in Donner, Tischriicken,Wagenrollenusw.) sich

He likewise scoffed at those who prohibitedthe use of parallel chords and proposed that tonality should be fully chromatic and "enriched by other scales."6 Just as Debussy debunked many basic tenets of commonpractice tonality, so he also questioned conventional approaches to musical form, especially those found in symphonic repertories. In an essay for La Revue blanche (6 March 1901), he dismissed a recent orchestral work by Witkowski, claiming that it provided "only further proof of the uselessness of the symphony since Beethoven."7 He added: at that Mustwe conclude despiteso manyattempts transformation, of the past?Has not its wornout gilt merelybeen replacedby a orchesplatingof shiningcopper,the shoddyfinishof present-day tration?8 Some ten years later, the barbs were no less pointed. Writing for SIM (1 November 1913), Debussy censured his colleagues for imitating the stale symphonic forms of Franz Liszt and Richard Strauss:the symphony-in all its elegance and formal order ... -is a thing

6In Debussy's conversationswith his teacher Guiraud, he questioned the rules prohibitingparallel sonorities, claiming that "there is no theory. You have merelyto listen. Pleasureis the law." In the same conversationsDebussy also declared: "Music is neither major nor minor. Minor thirds and major thirds should be combined, modulation thus becoming more flexible. The mode is that which one happens to choose at the moment. It is not constant." These conversationsare translatedin William Austin, ed., Debussy: Prelude to "The Afternoon of a Faun," Norton Critical Scores (New York: Norton, 1970), 128-31. For a facsimile of Maurice Emanuel's original transcription, see Leon Vallas, Claude Debussy: His Life and Works, trans. Maire and Grace O'Brien (London: Oxford University Press, 1933), 84. 7Debussy, La Revue blanche, 1 April 1901, in Lesure, MonsieurCroche, 25; Lesure and Smith, Debussy on Music, 15. 8Lesure,MonsieurCroche, 26; Lesure and Smith, Debussy on Music, 16.

d'un faune" Tonalityand Formin Debussy's Prelude a "L'Apres-midi


where, he also condemned Debussy for pandering to the "mediocrity of French taste."12 For the most part, Schenker's followers have accepted the limitations of their methods for explaining Debussy's music.13 Some, such as Felix Salzer, have seen these limitations as grounds for modifying Schenker's original model and, in so doing, expanding the notion of tonality in music. For example, Salzer claims that, instead of being derived from a Schenkerian Ursatz, Debussy's piano Prelude "Bruyeres" is generated from a background progression built from a chain of parallel fifths -I-3 in A ."14 Others, such as Adele Katz, acknowledge that only a few of Debussy's pieces follow strict Schenkerian paradigms, and that many of them require some new type of explanation.15 Most recently, Richard Parks has claimed that, with some exceptions, only Debussy's early scores (up to ca. 1889) conform in any consistent way.16 As he puts it:bemerkbarmachen konnen." See Schenker'sErliuterungsausgabe Sonate der Op. 101, Ludwig van Beethoven(Vienna: Universal Edition, 1921), 23. Cited by David Paul Goldman, "Esotericismas a Determinant of Debussy's Harmonic Language," The Musical Quarterly75 (1991): 146, fn. 20. '2"Undgar ein Debussy, der ware demnachnicht einmal noch ein Talent, ein Musikeriiberhauptzu nenn