Claude Debussy: Arabesque No.1


Composed between 1888-1891, Claude Debussy’s set of two arabesques were some of the composer’s earlier works. The first in particular has remained a popular piece amongst audiences and performers alike. Although composed when Debussy was in his mid-twenties, the arabesques are a mere hint of what was to come from this famous impressionist composer. Debussy liked the shapes that arabesques follow to create natural effects, and so that spurred him on to compose two of his own.


The Music

Starting in primarily E major, the first arabesque begins with a triadic theme that ripples across the upper octaves of the piano. As the music begins to trickle down the scale, the music begins to open up into a larger development section. The arpeggio figure features heavily in the arabesque, arriving in all different shapes and sizes. The constant feeling of movement is also at the forefront of the work, as rippling waves of arpeggios fill the atmosphere. 

As with many of Debussy’s works, he uses lots of modal harmony, as well as utilising the pentatonic scale in this arabesque. A quieter central section soon takes hold and the music begins to move back into tonal harmony. Starting back in E major, Debussy moves through A major and then into a bold C major. The transposed main theme brings a new lease of life to the music. A reprise of the opening figure returns, this time back in the home key of E major, with Arabesque No.1 concluding quietly and with poise. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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