MUS 212 Study Guide M (Chapter 13)
Debussy and Impressionism
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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).
- 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.
- Church Modes: Modes such as Dorian, Phrygian, etc., were
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 3rd-Relationship Cadences: A cadence that results from a
harmonic progression in which the roots lie a 3rd apart is very
- 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
- Other Cadences: Modal cadences are sometimes used, e.g.,
dominant-tonic cadence in the mixolydian mode (G minor to C major
= Mixolydian Cadence).
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- Examine the harmonic vocabulary by looking at prominent
chords. Check for quartal/quintal sonorities.
- If the music is major/minor or functional chromatic, then Roman
numeral analysis is appropriate.
- 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.
- 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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