Posted in Project 2: New Harmonic Fields

Research Point 4.3: Debussy’s Prélude No. 2 – Voiles

This research point is about Debussy’s Prélude No. 2: Voiles from his first book of piano preludes. The task is to listen to the composition with the score, noticing what stands out in terms of music and notation.

First of all, it was interesting to see that the title was situated at the end of the piece – perhaps giving the pianist a chance to experience the work without being too reliant on the programmatic title, and likewise giving the listener an opportunity to hear the piece completely free of preconceptions. Personally, I enjoyed seeing the title at the end because it gives the composition a unique, riddle-like quality.

Next, all terms are annotated in French. As someone that studied mostly Italian musical vocabulary, I learned quite a few expressions that I will add to my musical glossary. The notation is also quite detailed. Musically speaking, the use of whole-tone scale must have been very peculiar at the time the piece was composed, boldly denying the hegemony of the diatonic tonal space of the previous generations. The programmatic goal of this is very clear – embodying the mysterious subject-matter – voiles, which can denote in French both the veil and sails. My personal interpretation relates to the textures of the voile material, and listening to the prelude makes me recall a certain tactile aspect.

Finally, in terms of the form, the piece is a standard ternary ABA’, although A’ might be considered more of a coda. There is a stark contrast between the more eerie, whole-tone A section and the charming pentatonic B section. What really caught my eye is the way the motives are developed, at times seemingly travelling, yet also seemingly reaching nowhere.