Virtual Music Hour

  Debussy Archive

  Introduction to Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun  and  Debussy's La Mer

  Listen to the Music

Claude Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun

Claude Debussy's La Mer


Welcome to Virtual Music Hour. In preparation for your listening experience, Assistant Principal Violist Catherine Beeson has made guides with activities that can be enjoyed alone, with your quarantine buddies at home and online, or with your students. These activities can be mixed, matched, and altered to create an experience that’s right for you, or as inspiration to create your own. Get as creative as you’d like. Share it with us on social media! If you like seeing and hearing the Colorado Symphony musicians online, imagine how uplifting it would be for us to see and hear you too!

Claude Debussy is known as an innovative composer who broke new ground on expressive ideas in music, but for most of us his power lies in the brilliant, beautiful, and engaging sounds he created rather than the painstaking attention to detail and planning he applied to his compositions. Enjoy getting to know a bit about his genius and listening to the Colorado Symphony performances of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and La Mer.

Here is a listening map that can guide you through your listening experience. Read it in advance or while you’re listening!

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun

This music begins right from the start with a single flute playing the major thematic material. Listen carefully to this beautiful languid tune: It will return again multiple times throughout the piece, always a bit different than the first statement and often embellished in an improvisatory way. Other things to listen for are the way Debussy creates a sense of dreaming and of a hazy warm afternoon with musical gestures and textures.

In both La Mer and Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Debussy structures his music around short ideas, or motifs, rather than broader structures of the Classical and Romantic eras. He also draws the listener more into a tactile listening experience with musical textures and gestures than was customary practice in those earlier eras, and he pushes further across the boundaries of tonality — the idea of notes having roles and hierarchy organized around a sense of “home.” For these reasons and others, Debussy was considered to be a Modern Impressionist composer. He never appreciated being labeled Impressionist, but the label has stuck.

  What do you think of when you hear the terms “Modern” or “Impressionist” or “atonal”?

  How do these terms and your understanding of them comport with your experience listening to Debussy’s music?

  What do you and your quarantine buddies appreciate or find puzzling about these labels when exploring Debussy’s music?

In both La Mer and Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, composer Claude Debussy has constructed sounds for listeners to conjure mental images and sensations of nature.

  Try it yourself! Go for a walk outside and bring a journal with you.

Really focus on the things you see, hear, smell, feel, (or even taste if you should find some delicious treat along the way!) as though you are experiencing them for the first time. Note them in your journal and be as detailed as possible. When you return home take a fresh look at your journal notes.

  How would you translate these into sounds?

  What instruments would you choose?

  What sorts of rhythms or pitches would you use?

Let your mind dream up anything! After all, that’s what Debussy did!

Now that you’ve had a chance to consider, discuss, and get active around Claude Debussy’s music it’s time to listen to the Colorado Symphony performance. There are all sorts of ways to engage as a listener, especially when listening at home instead of the concert hall. Sing/hum/whistle along, move and dance, journal or draw what you hear, or just turn the volume up and listen for sheer pleasure!



Please share your musical adventure with us through social media! We would love to hear about it or see any of your activities, journaling, or creations!


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