Faculty Sponsor

Katharina Uhde


Arts and Sciences



Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-14-2020


Debussy Early Impressionism

My research is about Claude Debussy’s Nuit D’Etoiles (1880) for soprano and piano. I am investigating this piece from a historical, cultural, and analytical perspective. Specifically, I am investigating Debussy's early compositional style on stylistic markers of Impressionism. My data for the historical and cultural perspectives is derived from careful placement of my research within existing research including by authors Stephen Walsh and Grant Lewis. In addition, I draw significant data from a close analytical reading of the score. According to the Oxford Music Online Encyclopedia, Impressionism "is a philosophical, aesthetic and polemical term borrowed from late 19th-century French painting. [...]. The word 'Impressionism' did not appear in conjunction with a specific musical aesthetic until the 1880s." Although Nuit D'Etoiles (1880) was composed before "Impressionism" existed as an explicit stylistic category, Debussy already experimented with cutting-edge Modernist aesthetics in his earliest compositions, including Nuit D'Etoiles. My research traces several standard musical "Impressionism" parameters in Nuit D'Etoiles -- parallel chords, enharmonicism, alternative harmonic progressions avoiding tonic dominant-moves, and symbolism -- to show that at a time when most composers were still rooted in late-Romantic sound worlds, Debussy was already forerider of Early Modernism; he began experimenting with what would later be considered some of the most popular and cherished effects of Impressionism