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Analysing Debussey: Tonality, Motivic Sets and the Referential Pitch‐Class Specific Collection

Analysing Debussey: Tonality, Motivic Sets and the Referential Pitch‐Class Specific Collection I It is well known that Debussy rebelled against conventions, that he wrote extensively about his desire to renew musical thought, and that he criticised the direction in which traditional training was leading the musical world. In a letter to Pierre Louys, Debussy wrote: `tonic and dominant. . . [have] become È empty shadows of use only to stupid children.'1 His preference for linear over harmonic considerations is reflected in another letter (written in 1893, the same year he composed the String Quartet), in which he glorified Palestrina's treatment of voices `. . . crossing with each other to produce something which has never been repeated: harmony formed out of melodies [emphasis added].'2 Most of his music, particularly that composed around the turn of the century, is characterised by innovative sonorities (harmonies that are not deployed in a traditional `tonal' way or that use `non-functional' extended tertial chords). In the analysis of works that employ diatonicism but that are permeated with prominent `experimental' sonorities that cannot easily be explained in functional-tonal terms, the issue of tonality is a complex one. In studying Debussy's music composed at the turn of the century, it is easy to assume that the http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Music Analysis Wiley

Analysing Debussey: Tonality, Motivic Sets and the Referential Pitch‐Class Specific Collection

Music Analysis , Volume 19 (2) – Jul 1, 2000

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Publisher
Wiley
Copyright
Copyright © 2000 Wiley Subscription Services, Inc., A Wiley Company
ISSN
0262-5245
eISSN
1468-2249
DOI
10.1111/1468-2249.00117
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

I It is well known that Debussy rebelled against conventions, that he wrote extensively about his desire to renew musical thought, and that he criticised the direction in which traditional training was leading the musical world. In a letter to Pierre Louys, Debussy wrote: `tonic and dominant. . . [have] become È empty shadows of use only to stupid children.'1 His preference for linear over harmonic considerations is reflected in another letter (written in 1893, the same year he composed the String Quartet), in which he glorified Palestrina's treatment of voices `. . . crossing with each other to produce something which has never been repeated: harmony formed out of melodies [emphasis added].'2 Most of his music, particularly that composed around the turn of the century, is characterised by innovative sonorities (harmonies that are not deployed in a traditional `tonal' way or that use `non-functional' extended tertial chords). In the analysis of works that employ diatonicism but that are permeated with prominent `experimental' sonorities that cannot easily be explained in functional-tonal terms, the issue of tonality is a complex one. In studying Debussy's music composed at the turn of the century, it is easy to assume that the

Journal

Music AnalysisWiley

Published: Jul 1, 2000

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