Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was born in St.Germain-en-Laye, a small town near Paris and died in Paris. He was a significant French Impressionist composer who included the impressionist elements in his compositions, emphasizing on tone color, fluidity and exoticism. Not only he had written piano, choral, chamber music works and an opera Pelléas et Mélisande, he also wrote several orchestral works. The most important composition in his orchestral works was the symphonic poem (a single movement orchestral work that develops a poetic idea); Prelude a L’apres midi d’un faune (Prelude to The afternoon of a Faun, thereafter called Prelude). The sections and compositional styles used mainly in the Prelude shall be discussed in the essay.
Poet Stéphane Mallarmé claimed that the piece “far exceeded his expectations” when he first heard it on the piano before its publication. Claude Debussy intended the music to suggest “the successive scenes of the Faun's desires and dreams on that hot afternoon.” Debussy finished the revision of his symphony to Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem “Afternoon of a Faun” by the end of summer, 1894. The prelude was premiered by Société Nationale on 22nd December 1894. For the first time in history, the Société opened its doors to the public as “the work had been looked forward to with keen interest.” The work was such a great success that the conductor, Gustavo Doret had to repeat the performance the next day at Salle d'Harcourt. In summer 1895, the prelude was included in the repertoires of all orchestral societies. 11 years later on December 1913, it was adopted by the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris, a much honored achievement.
The instrumentation of this piece is meant for a small symphony orchestra, therefore trumpets, timpani and trombones are not included. Debussy shows an absolutely French manner in handling the instruments. He treated the instruments as an individual and allowed individual instrument to be more prominent compared to the ensemble. To create an airy texture and flowing atmosphere, he spaced out the melody and let the rhythm move as if there were no bar lines in between. The composer used harp glissandos, muted horn calls and woodwind solos to create a variety of delicate sounds, as if trying to convey “this ‘simple sensuous passionate being’ awakes in the woods and tries to remember: was he visited by three lovely nymphs, or was this but dream?” He also used a rare percussion instrument, the antique cymbals, to create a silvery tinkling tone to show the Faun’s dreamy state and describing “the sun is warm, the earth fragrant. He curls himself up and falls into a wine-drugged sleep.”
The work follows the familiar pattern of statement-departure-return (A-B-A’) . However, the composer did not follow the conventional way of having a cadence before moving to section B, neither had he included one before returning to section A. Rather, it was flowing and continuous. Debussy also did...