MUS 212 Study Guide M (Chapter 13)

Debussy and Impressionism

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  1. Impressionism: term first applied to a group of French painters, including Manet, Monet and Renoir.  Their interest in light and color led to a style characterized by blurred images, which convey the "impression" of a scene instead of an actual representation.  The term was first used in music to describe the work of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and his followers, principally Maurice Ravel (1875-1937).


  1. Debussy also felt the influence of Wagner, however, his response was a conscious attempt to remove "Wagnerisms" from his music.  His music is a blend of elements borrowed from Eastern and Western music, as well as those of his own invention.

Scale Resources

  1. Church Modes:  Modes such as Dorian, Phrygian, etc., were used often.
  1. Pentatonic Scale:  The five-note scale was another frequently used pattern.  Several pentatonic patterns are possible:  C D E G A C, C D F G A C, C E F G A C, C E F G B D (plus all transpositions).  The most commonly encountered pentatonic scale is that built on the following scale degrees:  1 2 3 5 6.
  1. Whole Tone Scale:  A six-note scale in which each degree is a whole step from the next.  Only two different whole tone scales are possible:  C D E F# G# A# and C# D# F G A B.  Any other whole tone scale is simply a transposition of these.
  • Notation is flexible, e.g.:  C D E F# G# A# or C D E Gb Ab Bb.


  1. 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th Chords:  These chords are employed with considerably greater frequency during the Impressionistic Period, and with much less tendency to resolve the dissonant factors.
  1. Chords of Addition and Omission:  Chords with added or deleted tones.  In order to enrich the sound of some sonorities, composers often added a 6th, 4th or 2nd to the traditional triad.  Similarly, tones were sometimes deleted: C [E] G C, G [B] D F#.
  • The words "no" and "add" may be used for deleted or added tones.  For example:  I add6 or Ino3.
  1. Quartal/Quintal Chords:  Quartal chords are built in 4ths.  Quintal chords are built in 5ths.
  • Consonant quartal/quintal sonorities:  usually contain 3-5 factors built in P4ths or P5ths.
  • Dissonant quartal/quintal sonorities:  contain one or more +4ths or o5ths, or five or more P4ths or P5ths.
  • Quartal/Quintal chords may be labeled as follows:  For example, the chord C F Bb may be designated 3x4 on C.  The first number refers to the quantity of tones, "x4" refers to the fact that it is a quartal structure.  G D A E B F# = 6x5 on G. "x5" refers to the quintal structure.
  1. Split Chord Members:  Contain chromatic added tones.  Such chromatic tones often produce double inflections of chord tones.  E.g., double inflection of the third of the chord produces a combination of major and minor, which is called a "split 3rd."
  • Ex.:  C Eb E G Bb = C7(3!); C E G G# Bb = C7(5!).
  • There is no standard symbol for split intervals, however, some theorists use "!" to represent the split interval.


  1. Traditional Cadences:  A wide variety of cadences is found in this style period, ranging from the traditional authentic cadence to the 3rd-relationship cadence.  The traditional cadence is often adorned with 7th, 9th, 11th or 13th chords.
  1. Linear Cadences:  Consists of melodic lines that converge or diverge for form cadence points. These cadences are reminiscent of cadences in early music, before the development of the major-minor tonal system.
  1. 3rd-Relationship Cadences:  A cadence that results from a harmonic progression in which the roots lie a 3rd apart is very common.
  1. Cadences Containing Altered Dominants or Tonics:  The dominant-tonic function is often camouflaged by chords to which additional factors have been added or from which they have been deleted.
  1. Other Cadences:  Modal cadences are sometimes used, e.g., dominant-tonic cadence in the mixolydian mode (G minor to C major = Mixolydian Cadence).

Textural Considerations

  1. Melodic doubling at Various Intervals:  Melodic doubling in parallel refers to the doubling of melodic lines to create parallel movement.  The doubling may be simply the addition of a single tone at a fixed interval, such as a 2nd.
  1. Parallel Chords (Planing):  Parallel chords in which all factors or voices move in parallel motion = chord planing.  This technique generally reduces or negates the effect of harmonic progression, but occasionally chords such as the tonic and dominant may create the sense of harmonic progression.

Suggested Approach to Analysis

  1. Establish the scale basis by examination of the music.  If chromatic, try to determine if the chromaticism is the result of functional chromatic harmony, or nonfunctional.  If the music seems to be diatonic, check to see if it is pentatonic.  If the music proves to be diatonic, check for modal versus major/minor tonality.
  1. Examine the harmonic vocabulary by looking at prominent chords.  Check for quartal/quintal sonorities.
  1. If the music is major/minor or functional chromatic, then Roman numeral analysis is appropriate.
  1. If the music contains passages of nonfunctional harmony, do a harmonic reduction and identify each chord by quality, either with Roman numerals or with direct labeling (A7, etc.).  Check for functional relationships that may be masked by enharmonic spellings.
  1. If the music falls outside Nos. 19 and 20, do a harmonic reduction and resort to direct labeling of scales and chords.

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