#1
I've recently developed a huge interest in the music of Claude Debussy, and I need some advice on how to go about writing music in this kind of style.

The only things I already figured out through analysis are:

-The frequent use of time signatures such as 9/8 and 3/4 to help create that "floating" kind of feel, along with overlapping rhythms that create a blurry kind of feel.

-The focus on woodwinds and strings in the orchestration. Brass is rather rare.
Also unusual instruments like Harps are sometimes being used.
some voices are played by different instruments at the same time (for example an oboe doubling the flute) create different colors.

-The use of strange scales such as the whole tone scale, pentatonics and modes.

-The use of short and free forms such as prelude and nocturne, the composers often take inspiration from poems


Knowing all this, I still fail to create something in that feeling. It mostly ends up sounding like some lame meditation music or it gets too weird...

What am I missing?
#2
Well, don't force it. I think Debussy didn't write his music by thinking 'Alright, let's play a melody using the wholetone scale in 9/4', it's supposed to come naturally.
What I do in order to do this is, pick two chords (use some exotic inversion, open strings, maj7s, whatever), play them after each other (with a LOT of space between the two) and then sing melodies over them, connecting them.
The 'trick' I use to write melodies that are creative is.. pretty much everything can sound good. Two chords that look like they aren't in the same key can still sound nice if you connect them with a melody.
Somehow, I've always found it easier to create melodies when singing (I'm a horrible singer, but this way, you're much less 'bound by scales' and use your ear more) than when playing guitar, so I sing until I find something I like, and then transcribe it to the guitar.

Worth a shot
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#3
You need to be more familiar with his music and learn it. Analyse his pieces. Also Debussy's style is quite varied, La mer sounds drastically different to say his 7th prelude from book one.

I'd recommend studying the following works:

La Mer
Preludes Book 1 +2
Gigues or Rhapsody for saxophone and orchestra
Images
#4
The essence of impressionism is its flow. It has nothing to do with the time signatures, orchestration, or scales. It is all in the phrasings. The phrasings are uneven, yet connected smoothly in a way that is not distracting in its unevenness. It is the blur from one segment to the next in a way that is extremely subtle and gradient that allows for its borderless impression.

The things you mentioned are ingredients to the flavors of impressionism, but what can't be so easily quantified yet most important, is this flow which you'll have to internalize by heart and intuition.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#5
I'm not extremely familiar with impressionism by a long shot, but what always strikes me about it is colour. It's not really about harmony or form or scales or chords in the way that you're maybe used to thinking of them. It's really about how all of those can create colours.
#6
@griffRG7321:
I will take a look at the works you listed. La Mer is one of my favorites.
I just find it kinda hard to analyze this kind of music because I'm too used to Beethoven and Bach.

Quote by Xiaoxi
The essence of impressionism is its flow. It has nothing to do with the time signatures, orchestration, or scales. It is all in the phrasings. The phrasings are uneven, yet connected smoothly in a way that is not distracting in its unevenness. It is the blur from one segment to the next in a way that is extremely subtle and gradient that allows for its borderless impression.

The things you mentioned are ingredients to the flavors of impressionism, but what can't be so easily quantified yet most important, is this flow which you'll have to internalize by heart and intuition.



Yeah that was exactly what I was looking for.
I just thought I could archieve that blurriness through orchestration and rhythm or something.

Ah well now the question is how do I internalize that flow?
I'll just listen to lots of Debussy for a start.
Last edited by 505088K at Feb 9, 2012,
#8
Always remember the source of an impressionist composition, the reason for its creation, is to convey an impression of something.

Take the visual aspect. Sometimes Debussy would translate a picture or a scene into music. As listeners we form our own visual impressions. For instance, Debussy's Book 2 Prelude "La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune" opens with a descending piano line that (to me) represents an elongated, undulating reflection of the moon on dark water.

The key is to learn the ability to translate sensory impressions into musical form. This requires contemplation of the scene in terms of visuals, emotion, atmosphere, and mood, with suggestions of ambiguity, pattern and the passing of time.

It should help you if you have this goal in mind from the start.
#9
Quote by Jehannum
Always remember the source of an impressionist composition, the reason for its creation, is to convey an impression of something.

Take the visual aspect. Sometimes Debussy would translate a picture or a scene into music. As listeners we form our own visual impressions. For instance, Debussy's Book 2 Prelude "La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune" opens with a descending piano line that (to me) represents an elongated, undulating reflection of the moon on dark water.

The key is to learn the ability to translate sensory impressions into musical form. This requires contemplation of the scene in terms of visuals, emotion, atmosphere, and mood, with suggestions of ambiguity, pattern and the passing of time.

It should help you if you have this goal in mind from the start.


Thanks that's really good advice, even though it's kinda obvious I didn't think about that too much.

Do you have any good advice on how to learn that?
I always translate things too literally I think, like a film composer would do, I analyze the different feelings and tensions that are going on in a scene and build the music around that.

I do think I have the imagination that's needed for this kind of stuff, I'm pretty good at getting the 'impressions' from that kind of music and I also half consciously make up musical themes and developements when reading sometimes.
I just have trouble translating my 'impressions' on paper without making them too literall and obvious.

It needs to be more..organic?
#10
Quote by 505088K
I just find it kinda hard to analyze this kind of music because I'm too used to Beethoven and Bach.

I suspected that to be the problem. I have the same issues.

The fact is that the Germans and French have very different mindsets when it comes to the arts. Germans focus on logic. They're renowned for their engineering, which is also reflected in their music. You can clearly see this in any given German composer, with their emphasis on thematic development and formal treatment. The notes themselves are relatively utilitarian. In contrast, the French is all about the aesthetics. Their ideas may not be as well integrated and interwoven because their priority is on the colors and textures of things, which has always had a more surrealistic touch (watch any French movie).

So there's a couple of things to take away from this:
1. You shouldn't analyze this music the same way you do Bach/Beethoven, because it doesn't really apply. I think it's all about gut feelings and intuitions here. It's an attitude, not a cemented methodology.
2. It may just be that you're not meant to write impressionist music if you're deeply ingrained in the German way of thinking. That's not to say that you can't try, but I wouldn't be too disheartened and focus on my strength instead of my weakness.

Quote by 505088K

Yeah that was exactly what I was looking for.
I just thought I could archieve that blurriness through orchestration and rhythm or something.

It's all of that, but it starts with the right mindset.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Feb 10, 2012,
#11
Quote by Jehannum
Always remember the source of an impressionist composition, the reason for its creation, is to convey an impression of something.

Take the visual aspect. Sometimes Debussy would translate a picture or a scene into music. As listeners we form our own visual impressions. For instance, Debussy's Book 2 Prelude "La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune" opens with a descending piano line that (to me) represents an elongated, undulating reflection of the moon on dark water.

I'm not sure if I can agree with this. Debussy himself opposed the term "impressionism". While French composers definitely try to convey the visuals through their music on very vague/abstract terms, I don't think they are trying to translate things through musical gestures in a literal manner. I think they think about the subject/scene and form an intuitive feeling, and just write from that feeling without being too calculated about it.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#12
Quote by Xiaoxi
I suspected that to be the problem. I have the same issues.

The fact is that the Germans and French have very different mindsets when it comes to the arts. Germans focus on logic. They're renowned for their engineering, which is also reflected in their music. You can clearly see this in any given German composer, with their emphasis on thematic development and formal treatment. The notes themselves are relatively utilitarian. In contrast, the French is all about the aesthetics. Their ideas may not be as well integrated and interwoven because their priority is on the colors and textures of things, which has always had a more surrealistic touch (watch any French movie).

So there's a couple of things to take away from this:
1. You shouldn't analyze this music the same way you do Bach/Beethoven, because it doesn't really apply. I think it's all about gut feelings and intuitions here. It's an attitude, not a cemented methodology.
2. It may just be that you're not meant to write impressionist music if you're deeply ingrained in the German way of thinking. That's not to say that you can't try, but I wouldn't be too disheartened and focus on my strength instead of my weakness.


It's all of that, but it starts with the right mindset.

It probably is an analyzation problem. I just read a thesis done on Ravel's "Gespard de la nuit" and the author had to come up with a "new" way of analyzing because when he tried the typically Back/Beethoven way nothing added up and things got far too cluttered to make any sense of.

I've realized through that reading that a big part of Impressionism is fleeting tonal centers. In two measures a composer might go through 4 different key centers, but it would all sound natural.
#13
Quote by DiminishedFifth
It probably is an analyzation problem. I just read a thesis done on Ravel's "Gespard de la nuit" and the author had to come up with a "new" way of analyzing because when he tried the typically Back/Beethoven way nothing added up and things got far too cluttered to make any sense of.

I've realized through that reading that a big part of Impressionism is fleeting tonal centers. In two measures a composer might go through 4 different key centers, but it would all sound natural.

The problem with that, as with a lot of modern music, is that there is no central way to analyze this kind of music. There isn't a set system of harmony or anything like that. You can analyze how a specific kind of effect is achieved in descriptive terms, but it can't neatly categorized in terms of the usual parameters of tonal theory.

The fleeting tonal centers are definitely a main feature, but I wouldn't even think of it as modulating between centers because it's not really functional harmony. Their decisions are based largely on color and quality of the harmonies.

ps I'm free today if you wanna talk over Skype.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#14
Quote by Xiaoxi
The problem with that, as with a lot of modern music, is that there is no central way to analyze this kind of music. There isn't a set system of harmony or anything like that. You can analyze how a specific kind of effect is achieved in descriptive terms, but it can't neatly categorized in terms of the usual parameters of tonal theory.


Yeah, that's what I was getting at

The fleeting tonal centers are definitely a main feature, but I wouldn't even think of it as modulating between centers because it's not really functional harmony. Their decisions are based largely on color and quality of the harmonies.


Yeah I understand. It's all for the sake of color, but the effect is still there, y'know?

ps I'm free today if you wanna talk over Skype.

I'll hit you up later. I have my lesson in about 15 minutes...
#15
Quote by Xiaoxi
I suspected that to be the problem. I have the same issues.

The fact is that the Germans and French have very different mindsets when it comes to the arts. Germans focus on logic. They're renowned for their engineering, which is also reflected in their music. You can clearly see this in any given German composer, with their emphasis on thematic development and formal treatment. The notes themselves are relatively utilitarian. In contrast, the French is all about the aesthetics. Their ideas may not be as well integrated and interwoven because their priority is on the colors and textures of things, which has always had a more surrealistic touch (watch any French movie).

So there's a couple of things to take away from this:
1. You shouldn't analyze this music the same way you do Bach/Beethoven, because it doesn't really apply. I think it's all about gut feelings and intuitions here. It's an attitude, not a cemented methodology.
2. It may just be that you're not meant to write impressionist music if you're deeply ingrained in the German way of thinking. That's not to say that you can't try, but I wouldn't be too disheartened and focus on my strength instead of my weakness.


I see... might have something to do with being german myself.

I think it's also kind of a language thing isn't it? French sounds very soft and floating in general. While german feels more strict and is uses more consonants.

And yeah I don't really want to write only impressionist music now, I just want to understand that style better and add a slight impressionistic kind of touch to my own writing.
I'm better at writing marches and walzes and stuff like that but I don't like that.
I want to write more expressive and free music.

I also want to be able to write in most kinds of styles and forms... just for the sake of flexibility really and to try everything out.


I also admire the impressionists for writing such new music that also is still very likeable for the general public. Everyone likes Clair de Lune and Ravels Bolero...

And that's also kinda where I want to be. I don't want my work to sound just like stereotypical marches and scherzos, it needs to sound interesting and colorful without being too weird.
#16
Quote by 505088K

I think it's also kind of a language thing isn't it? French sounds very soft and floating in general. While german feels more strict and is uses more consonants.
Yes, language definitely plays a big role in all of this. Some of Sibelius' music is a little rhythmically hard to follow because he intentionally exploits this difference in language. Finnish/Nordic supposedly have their accents in a very different place than other languages so he places the strong beats in a weird place in the measure.

I'm better at writing marches and walzes and stuff like that but I don't like that.
I want to write more expressive and free music.

From what I've heard from you, and it's really a common problem for most of us, especially coming from a rock background, is that the music we write is too square. It is neatly packed into 4/4 in 4 bar phrases. This is something that everyone on here has to be aware of and work on getting out of. It works fine in rock/other pop styles, but not in classical. Even in common practice classical, where things tend to favor even phrasings, the composers are aware of the flow and try to avoid becoming stagnant.

Beethoven is great to study for this, because even though his music is pretty hard on the borders, he changes things up in a way that doesn't feel too square. You should take a look at some of the piano sonatas (even the 1st one) and string quartets to see what I mean. Bach is also great at this, but it's a little harder to identify. I feel that Mozart is lacking in this area. But by the time we get to Wagner, it is the German manifestation of completely blurring and blending the flow. But be aware that keeping the flow is not just randomly switching up the rhythmic motion or activity or texture or anything like that, it is a natural evolution. That's what you need to pay attention to. Also listen to Prokofiev, who is a master at uneven phrasings that sound completely natural.

I feel that flow is one of the most important elements of writing good music, and it is probably THE most important part in contemporary writing, in which there is nothing else that you can consistently rely on to compel listeners. Too often we're preoccupied with harmony, but it is flow that is the invisible driving force behind the music. So coming from a German background, I suggest you get better the German way first and then it will be easier to approach impressionism.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Feb 10, 2012,
#17
Some of Sibelius' music is a little rhythmically hard to follow because he intentionally exploits this difference in language




Working through Jeux d'eau, and its frustrating when you need to go higher than the 24th fret to match the notation.
#18
Alright thanks I will do that first then.

But I still don't really understand what 'flow' really is.
Even though I can tell if a piece 'flows well' I don't have a conscious definition of it.

so how do I archieve good flow exactly, when does it sound 'natural'?

Is it a more matter of form and melodic and harmonic developement or more about the rhythm in the phrases?