Claude Debussy: Rêverie

Context

Composed in 1890, Rêverie is a peaceful solo work for piano by Claude Debussy. The title refers to a dream-like state, which Debussy addresses head on with this work. Although still very popular today, the work was one of Debussy’s earlier works, meaning that it wasn’t as harmonically innovative as some of his later works. It has been said, however, that the fluidity of Debussy’s melodic writing were reminiscent of what was to come from his later, more mature works. 

Rêverie is not full of excitement and explosions of colour, which became a signature characteristic of Debussy’s later works. But instead, Rêverie is calm, peaceful and prioritises atmosphere and reaching that dream-like state. Often used as a work perfect for mindfulness and meditation, Rêverie is an accessible way into Debussy’s style.

Fromont published Rêverie some years after Debussy had sent it to them. However, by this time Debussy had a very different opinion of the work:

 

“I regret very much your decision to publish Rêverie. I wrote it in a hurry years ago, purely for material considerations. It is a work of no consequence and I frankly consider it to be no good!”

 

The Music

Opening with a serene melody from just the one hand, this theme is repeated throughout the work. The hands come together to develop the second theme. As the piece moves on, the once simple melody has become richer in texture, warmer in sound and dreamier in content. 

The texture builds over the course of the piece, however there isn’t a climax in the traditional sense. There are parts where we hear the hands unite for chordal patterns add emphasis to the melody, but a climax is never reached. This plays to the dream-like atmosphere that Debussy created for this piece. More often than not, a dream is not often interrupted by big sounds, instead they just move along at a comfortable pace. 

There are hints along the way of how Debussy’s harmonic language progress during his life, although most of these are very mild in comparison. The gentle ebb and flow of the melody as it begins to unfold creates a peaceful rocking atmosphere. With sustained notes, Debussy is able to create shimmering dissonances throughout, which are often accentuated by the performer’s use of the sustain pedal. 

The melody is quite flexible when it comes to performance, with emphasis being moved between significant parts of the melody. This can make the work quite personal to the performer, with many adding their own characteristics to the flowing melody and elongated dissonances. Rêverie begins how it started – peaceful. 

Final Thoughts

Claude Debussy’s solo piano work Rêverie has remained one of his most popular works for the instrument. Although the composer came to dislike the work as his style progressed, it has stood the test of time for many performers. 

 

Happy Reading!

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