Pagodes Claude Debussy

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“Pagodes” is taken from Claude Debussy’s “Estampes”, a collection of three pieces for solo piano composed in 1903. Working from Paris, in these pieces Debussy explores the beginnings of the new French impressionist style that Debussy was a central innovator in, though Debussy personally rejected the term. “Estampes” moves away from the predominantly German, late-Romantic style by avoiding extreme length and melodic complexity in favour of, as Michael Kennedy describes it, “conveying the moods and emotions aroused by the subject” through briefer and melodically simpler pieces. Debussy also moves away from the tonal system, utilising techniques such as the use of the whole-tone and pentatonic scales and quartal and quintal chords to create…show more content…
The exploration of the timbral possibilities of the piano as a percussive instrument would be developed later in the 20th century by composers such as John Cage, for example, in his works for prepared piano in the 1940s. “Pagodes” makes use of just a few short melodic ideas. The piece is in a loose ternary form, however, the B section makes use of elements heard in the A section. The first idea (bars 3-4) is repeated verbatim three times after it is first heard. This becomes an ostinato as it is repeated in full and broken into parts throughout the piece. A two bar scalic countermelody is heard in the middle of the texture at bar 9. At bar 11 a new idea is introduced that uses all 5 notes of the pentatonic scale. At bar 15 the trill-like triplet idea is introduced. A whole-tone melody is introduced at bar 33, the beginning of the B section. These few motifs undergo little melodic variation occurs; Debussy layers these melodies and transposes them in different octaves to create a rich contrapuntal texture that is reminiscent of gamelan’s busy and dense multi-layered texture. Western musical tradition had placed emphasis on strict forms as a method of melodic development and contrast, such as the Classical sonata form. Debussy was keen to move away from these conventional ideas of melodic development, instead taking inspiration from the more free-form and layered approach to
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