Name: Instructor: Course: Date: Claude Debussy and the Javanese Gamelan Claude Debussy, a French composer, was born on the 22nd of August 1862. Debussy was a prominent figure in impressionist music, being made a Legion of Honour Chevalier in 1903. He was a vital figure in Western music’s transition to modern times, remaining one of the most influential composers of all time…
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Its instruments are tuned to play together, and as such different gamelan instruments are not interchangeable. It derives its name from the word gamels, which means to hammer or strike. The suffix,”an” makes the word a collective noun. This paper aims to study Debussy and gamelan, and how Debussy incorporated gamelan figurations into his own music. The paper seeks to discuss the capabilities of the piano, as well as its limitations, and touch on orchestral music. It also seeks to explain why Debussy was so fascinated by the Javanese gamelan as to stop developing his impressionistic music in a western manner. Debussy’s family was destitute, being sustained by his paternal aunt. This led to his much reputed awkward social skills and egotism. He received lessons in piano from Madame de Fleurville, who was a pupil of Chopin. In 1889 at the Paris Universal exposition, Claude Debussy who at the time was a young composer getting his spurs and getting his first works published had a real revelation (Lockspeiser 67). At this exposition, groups from around the globe displayed their countries’ best art, culture music and the way of life. The Eiffel tower was the expositions centrepiece. The musicians visiting the exposition were especially fascinated by the exhibit from the Malay Archipelago of java. This exhibit was a village model demonstrating communal life aspects that included religion, agriculture, and entertainment. The gamelan was a part of their presentation, forming a vital part of their village social and religious life. Then gamelan was a collection of metallic instruments with bell like sounds and had been passed down over thousand years via oral tradition (Lockspeiser 67). This Javanese music sensationalized European musicians (Lockspeiser 69). Debussy as well was taken in by this music. Most of his fruitful hours were spent in the Kampong of the Javanese troupe. He listened to the complexities of the gamelan’s percussive rhythm, especially its inexhaustible flashing ethereal timbre combinations. Debussy admired various aspects of the gamelan music and adapted them for his own compositions (Lockspeiser 69). Prelude, which is from pour le piano, is an early response to the techniques of the gamelan. Its extended measured trills, pedal points, and tonal relationships that were unusual were incorporated into this piece. The prevalent texture, with its moderately moving tenor, slow moving bass, and fast moving treble suggests gamelan sound. “Pagodas” from Estampes is a representation directly from a performance of gamelan (Roberts 12). Cycles, bell and gong sounds, pentatonic melodies, which remind one of slendro tunings, together with a layered counterpoint composed of lower voices progressively getting slower can also be gleaned in abundance. Debussy indicates to accelerate gradually and then the tempo is retarded over a period. Then just as is prevalent in the gamelan, the music ends in one final stroke of the gong (Roberts 13). “Bells through the Leaves” also utilizes techniques of the gamelan (Harpole 8). Sounds of bells, pedal sustained, and a thorough utilization of whole tone scale is the surest sign that the piece is from gamelan sound universe. Its utilization of a melody of the balungan type within a texture with four voices is also the most striking use by Debussy in his music of gamelan techniques. “
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