Claude Debussy (1862–1918)
ABOUT THIS PIECE
Debussy’s two arabesques were early works for piano, written when he was in his late twenties and beginning to come into his own as an “impressionist” composer. Drawing his ideas from the French symbolist movement in literature and art, which rejected naturalism and realism and embraced the enigmatic and indefinite, it was not uncommon for Debussy to talk about his music in artistic terms, as though the musical score was a work of visual art itself. Even the title of this early work, Deux Arabesques, equally references dance (a ballet position), prior musical tradition (the French Baroque dance form, which boasted an “Arabic” sound), and visual art (inspired by a complex, interlacing, and foliage-inspired pattern that references Islamic art). Debussy used the term “arabesque” to reference a wide range of music, though much of that exemplified the exoticism and filigree the term implies. This is certainly the case with his first Arabesque.