Claude-Achille Debussy (1862 – 1918) was a French
composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the
most prominent figures working within the field of
impressionist music, though he himself intensely
disliked the term when applied to his compositions In
France, he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour
in 1903. A crucial figure in the transition to the
modern era in Western music, he remains one of the most
famous and influential of all composers.
Beginning in the 1890s, Debussy developed his own
musical language largely independent of Wagner's style,
colored in part from the dreamy, sometimes morbid
romanticism of the Symbolist Movement. Debussy became a
frequent participant at Stéphane Mallarmé's Symbolist
gatherings, where Wagnerism dominated the discussion.
In contrast to the enormous works of Wagner and other
late-romantic composers, however, around this time
Debussy chose to write in smaller, more accessible
forms. The Deux Arabesques is an example of one of
Debussy's earliest works, already developing his
musical language. Suite bergamasque (1890) recalls
rococo decorousness with a modern cynicism and
puzzlement. This suite contains (this) one of Debussy's
most popular pieces, "Clair de Lune".
His music is noted for its sensory component and for
not often forming around one key or pitch. Often
Debussy's work reflected the activities or turbulence
in his own life. In French literary circles, the style
of this period was known as symbolism, a movement that
directly inspired Debussy both as a composer and as an
active cultural participant.
The Trois Chansons de Charles d'Orléans (Three Songs of
Charles d'Orléans) falls into a sparsely populated
category of Debussy's output -- that of unaccompanied
choral music. In fact, discounting unpublished and
unfinished works, it is the only such piece he
composed. For that reason alone, these songs are
valuable in the study and understanding of the
composer's works; apart from such academic and personal
considerations, this music has broad appeal as
The three songs are settings of poems by Charles Duc
d'Orléans (1394-1465). The first is entitled "Dieu!
qu'il la fait bon regarder!" (God! but she is fair!).
The music is ethereal and subdued, and features at
times a religiosity of mood, the whole offering a
mixture of Renaissance and modern sounds and putting an
interesting and rare retrospective spin on the
composer's harmonic thinking. The next song, "Quand
j'ai ouy le tambourin" (When I heard the tambourine),
is also somewhat ethereal, but the music is livelier
and a bit more colorful, too. The contrapuntal writing
here -- and in fact throughout the set -- is quite
effective. The last song, "Yver, vous n'estes qu'un
villain" (Winter, You're Naught but a Rogue), is also
colorful and quite spirited. In the end, the three
pieces in this collection are all worthwhile and must
be ranked as important efforts in Debussy's output. The
first and last songs date from 1898, and the middle
from 1908, the year the collection was published.
Although originally created for Chorus (SATB), I
created this arrangement for Woodwind Quartet (Flute,
Oboe, Bb Clarinet & Bassoon).