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“Clair de Lune” Piano Piece by Debussy

Classical music always remains the gold standard of art, capable of bringing something new to people’s lives even decades after writing. Unlike most modern pop songs, classical pieces are full of meaning and have a sophisticated, refined structure. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the work of Claude Debussy, Clair de Lune, in terms of style, context, and its influence.

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Like all classical music, Clair de Lune, translated from French as moonlight, consists of certain essential musical elements that form this movement. First of all, this work can be characterized by the tonality in which it is written. D flat major gives unique energy and warmth to the piece, forming a positive impression. In combination with the rhythm and pace in which it is written, Clair de Lune gives a very light, dreamy mood. As Debussy himself pointed out, this piece should be played andante très expressif, which means at an easy walking pace, and at the same time very expressive, which is also one of the essential elements of Clair de Lune. It is reflected in the slow but simultaneously vivid and memorable melody, tender and sublime. At the same time, musical harmony is characterized by incredible plasticity; it flows like a water stream, shimmering in all colors, and creating an incredible impression.

Clair de Lune can also be evaluated in terms of classical concepts, analyzing the nature of the work following philosophical and cultural theories. The terms Apollonian and Dionysian were introduced to characterize, first of all, the contrasting elements of Greek tragedy (Britannica, n.d.). However, they can be applied to musical works, as these concepts themselves reflect an attitude towards order. While Apollonian features culture and harmony, Dionysian aspects are irrationality and passion (Britannica, n.d.). From this point of view, it can be noted that Clair de Lune has the characteristic attributes of both approaches. The work has an apparent harmony in which the musical narrative is built. Music, especially at the beginning, adheres to a strict pace as if restraining itself. However, at the same time, there is a passion revealed in the course of this movement, when a melody from monophonic goes into polyphonic, accelerates and amplifies in sound. Thus, in this play, Debussy reflected both classical beauty and harmony, restrained and calm, and vivid expression.

The particular school of music can also serve as a criterion to analyze the piece. Clair de Lune is a prime example of a work in impressionism, a style that was initially associated only with artists. However, there are many similarities and parallels between the two genres. First of all, impressionism in the artwork was related to the play of color and light (Janaro & Altshuler, 2017). In the works of the Impressionists, mosaic strokes were actively used, made with great attention to transmitting a momentary impression. In that context, musical impressionism is very close to artistic, as it shares the same goals. Some of the musicians sought to reflect in their works the moments they saw, some details of nature, impressions that arise in consciousness. In this regard, Debussy is the most famous impressionist musician, and this movement in music is primarily associated with his name (Byrnside, 1980). The Clair de Lune piece itself is a confirmation of the composer’s music belonging to that genre. The play itself is permeated with subtle harmonies designed to create the image and idea of moving water. Artists working in a similar style were set the same goal.

Thus, it can be concluded that the classification of impressionism may be equally applied to both music and the visual arts. Both musicians and artists of this direction had a similar approach to their works, trying to reflect the momentary impression. The differences between them are only in the techniques used; however, the purpose and meaning of the works coincide. In this context, it can be decided that both Debussy’s Clair de Lune and Claude Monet’s Impression Sunrise are examples of Impressionist works. Therefore, there is no need to highlight separate terminology for musicians.


Britannica. (n.d.). Apollonian. In Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020, Web.

Byrnside, R. L. (1980). Musical impressionism: The early history of the term. The Musical Quarterly, 66(4), 522-537.

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Janaro, R. P., & Altshuler, T.C. (2017). The art of being human. Pearson Education.

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