Project 1 – Debussy and Impressionism

I was asked to listen to Debussy’s piece “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune “; the entry can be found in my listening log. Debussy uses a chromatic chord sequence, which can be heard in the following example:

Debussy Chords bild

By just looking at the notes, one might assume, that it would sound disharmonic, but every second chord seems almost like a chord is resolved. In comparison to Händel’s Dixit Dominus or Bach’s chorale harmonisation (which I worked with in the previous parts) this extract of the piece doesn’t involve a huge range of chords. I nevertheless didn’t have the impression that the sound was emptier or missing something – on the contrary, I initially had the impression, that there was a wider range of chords involved. This may be due to the fact, that the chords Debussy used involve more than just the normal triad or minor 7 (which both where mainly used in the previous epochs).


Project 2 – New harmonic fields

Debussy’s piece „ La Cathedrale Engloutie“ starts with an interesting chord progression of parallel rising 5ths.  The chord G (only consisting of G and its’ 5th D) , which is played over a whole bar in both hands underlays the chord progression G- A- E- G-A, (also all without the maj. 3), is followed by a deep echo playing the notes from the Key of G (G + D) again.

kurz 1

In bars 3 and 4 are the same as the previous ones, apart from the two bass notes, which have been put one tone lower. The chord sounding now involves F, C, D and G, the chords moving in parallel fifths stay the same. The echo has been put one tone lower as well – from D and G to C and F. (The following image shows two bars which are meant to be next to one another, the clefs are there due to a pagination)

Within the 5th bar Debussy starts with the same motif again, but then continues in a different way. The chord at the beginning has again been lowered, this time by half a note, to E and B.

Kurz 3

The next phrase is working in this scheme as well can be seen in bar 14, were the bass notes are playing C and G.

Kurz 4


The chords seen above are at the beginnings of bar 1,3,5,14, with the bass always moving down and the right hand staying at the same place.

For the passage in between, bar 6 to 12, Debussy uses the Lydian mode, starting on E. (From my former musical education I already know that the notes of the Lydian mode can be defined by playing only white notes from F to the next F on the piano – the amount of whole and half notes then can be transferred to any other starting note. The Lydian mode staring on E would therefore look like the following:

Lydian mode

*The parts of the score were provided by the Petrucci Music Library. Available at : [Accessed: 11.11.1019]

Exercise 4.0

Before starting this exercise, I was introduced to Arnold Schönberg’s “Serialism”, sometimes also called “Twelve-tone-technique. This kind of music is based on a more mathematical system: Every note of a twelve tone row has to be played only once, but all notes have to be used. The row can be played as retrograde (backwards), inverted (mirrored intervals) or as a retrograde inversion (backwards with mirrored intervals).

I was asked to create my own row and add the other named versions to it. Even though I didn’t have to, I tried to follow a certain pattern by always using a neutral note, a note with a sharp, another neutral note and a note with a flat. Seeing that I was able to use sharps as well as flats, I only had to be careful not to use the same enharmonic notes. The only difficulties I came across by following this scheme, was the very end, were I had only two white notes left (E and G). By using Fb instead of E, I managed to continue the pattern to the end of the phrase. I furthermore tried to avoid tri-tones as well as intervals higher than a minor 6th.

Even though it was given in the example in my study folder, that I could transpose the inversion (and the retrograded inversion) I decided to invert around the same note, the previous part had ended with, that way it is possible to hear the same note twice in a row three times, even though it is technically not allowed.

The last bar of the normal row only happened to be a four ascending notes with small intervals by chance. They nevertheless, make all 16 bars sound more interesting and seem to give it a bit of structure. This effect can especially be notices, due to the order of the following row versions: Having the retrograde right after the normal row reflects the fourth bar right after being played, this works in a similar way in bars 9 and 10.

schoenberg bild

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