Claude Debussy was a composer who used many different colors and timbres to create his music. This would bring him to be associated with the visual movement of impressionism. He was primarily a composer for piano, although many of his works are played today including La Mer, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, and this cello sonata.
An extremely short work, this piece does not follow traditional sonata form, instead using themes to tie the movements together. The second movement proceeds attacca into the finale.
- Prologue: Lent, sostenuto e molto risoluto
- Sérénade: Modérément animé
- Finale: Animé, léger et nerveux
Debussy's music doesn't have the finality that other composers have, there is no real drive to cadences in this work. It is all very open ended in sound. Debussy often uses repeated figures to add to the ambiguity. Common to his music is pentatonic and whole tone scales, this can be heard early on in the piece. In this piece, he makes use of a few secondary techniques: false harmonics, left-hand pizzacato, and flautando bowing. He uses these to great effect, adding much ambiguity.
ComparisonEditA fellow French composer, Francis Poulenc wrote a cello sonata that is horribly difficult. Poulenc was mainly a composer for the organ. The cello sonata was written many years after Debussy's sonata, but shares some similarities. Like Debussy, there is much ambiguity to his sonata. The main source of that is the many many jumps and very angular bits of melody. He also employs very light sounds and trills. French music usually demands a very light sound and frantic vibrato. It is easy to distinguish Debussy and Poulenc because of this. The piano parts also tend to be much thicker than other composers of different regions.
This sonata is very cool to me. It has a lot of interesting sounds, but because of that it is very unsatisfying to play it without the piano. Debussy's sonata makes a lot of sense on the instrument as well, making it enjoyable to play.
Craig Wright and Bryan Simms. "Music in Western Civilization." (Schirmer, Boston, 2010). pp. 610-615.
François Lesure and Roy Howat. "Debussy, Claude." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed May 1, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/07353 .
Debussy Video: http://youtu.be/SM_X9U2_SlE
Poulenc Video: http://youtu.be/Pz3MoRK8pqI