Homage to Debussy

The music world honours Debussy this year, the 100th anniversary of his death. Pianists have always enjoyed playing one of his most beautiful pieces, Clair de lune. It is the third in a set of four pieces grouped under a title drawn from a poem by Paul Verlaine. The poet refers to dancing “masqueraders and bergamaskers,” a possible reason for the title Suite Bergamasque. The second and fourth pieces in the suite are dances, but this piece depicts the filmy moonlight in which the dancers sway, play lutes, and sing.

Debussy had an affinity with the French Symbolist movement and its evocation of the indefinite. He spoke of using “floating chords” in his music. Yet Dr. Faber demonstrates that the structural points in Clair de lune are classic and underlie the atmospheric wash that suggests the moonlit landscape. To regard the keyboard geography as five blacks and two whites immediately eases concern about the key signature. To appreciate that a ii-V‑I progression in the gently sonorous bass supports scales slowly descending in sixths gives the player a simple scaffold over which to play the more quickly moving notes. And the fingerings and redistribution of notes between the hands provided by Dr. Faber’s edition offers insight into how to play this piece with fluency and expression.

Not yet ready for the original Clair de lune? You can enjoy playing it in the easier arrangement found in Adult Piano Adventures Classics Book 2. Or you can use this arrangement as a skeleton sketch of the original. You, too, can explore and delight in a moonlit landscape!