Debussy composed this famous work as the third movement of a piano suite entitled Suite Bergamasque.


This week’s music clips relate to Chapters 33 and 34.

  • Claude Debussy:
    • Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”).
      • Read pages 1092–1094, and then read the paragraphs below. Once you do that, imagine yourself as a faun in a meadow on a sunny day; click the video above, close your eyes and listen.
      • A faun (not to be confused with a fawn, or young deer) is a creature from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. A faun is part goat and part human; it usually has the horns of a goat, is otherwise human from head to waist, and then is goat from waist to feet. The ancients considered fauns as one type of forest deity among many. Fauns were associated with lustful impulses, not having the constraints of formal urban society. Debussy’s musical composition was inspired by a major poem by his friend Stéphane Mallarmé, a poem composed in French (1865; final version in 1876) originally and going by the title L’Après-midi d’un faune (“The Afternoon of a Faun”). Carefully read translator Alan Edwards’s description of Mallarme’s poem.
      • See this major Symbolist poem in English translation on page 1093, or this more complete translation. You may also read the French text with translation. On Symbolist poetry, read pages 1091–1093, and also Symbolist Poets.
      • Back to Debussy’s work, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune: As you listen to Debussy’s work, think of it illustrating the moods and lustful fantasies of a faun on a hot afternoon. Debussy’s composition later inspired a ballet based on this same poem.
    • La Mer (“The Sea”).
      • Read carefully page 1094 about the three sections of this work; consider the book’s description of this as “Impressionist” music (the analogy being to Impressionist paintings); but also consider the suggestion that it might be “Symbolist” and reflect on the differences described between the two. The book describes the three parts of this—light on the surface of the water, movement of waves, and the sound of wind on the water. Feel free to listen to a few minutes and then fast forward to the different parts.
    • Clair de lune.
      • This piece is not mentioned in the book; Debussy is on pages 1093–1094 and 1179.
      • Debussy composed this famous work as the third movement of a piano suite entitled Suite Bergamasque. “Clair de lune” is French for moonlight. The piece was completed in 1905. For some, it evokes the image and mood of moonlight shining through the leaves of a tree. It seems to have been inspired by a Symbolist French poem, also entitled Claire de lune, by Paul Verlaine, penned in 1869. You can also read the French text and translation; scroll down to the second poem. For one person’s experience playing Debussy’s composition, see the blog post, On Debussy’s 150th Birthday, the Spirit of His ‘Clair de Lune’ Lives On.
  • Gustav Mahler:
    • Symphony No. 1, 3rd Movement.
      • Read carefully the description of this piece on page 1104. Mahler was a prominent composer from Vienna in the late 1800s.
    • Symphony No. 2 (“The Resurrection Symphony”), in full (not mentioned in the book). If you are truly ambitious, listen to this long—but marvelous—symphony. For background information on the work, visit NPR’s Mahler’s Apocalyptic Second Symphony.
  • Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 4, 4th Movement.
    • Read carefully pages 1104–1105. This was composed in 1885. Our class text notes that it is marked allegro energico e passionato (energetically fast and passionate).
  • Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre de printemps (“The Rite of Spring”).
    • Read carefully pages 1129–1130 on this ballet, for which Stravinsky composed the music and Vaslav Nijinsky did the choreography. (Compare Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune from pages 1093–1094; note how this is another twist on Mallarme’s poem—a ballet with new music.) It is very interesting to consider audience expectations for any performance. It is my guess that most of you will listen to this music and find it enjoyable and inventive with all the tempo changes, certainly nothing to complain about. And the dance and choreography will seem good and tame (there are more erotic modern dance versions of this, but this is the more conservative original). Yet, in 1913, early in the performance there was so much hissing and booing—apparently directed at the music, not the dance—that “police had to be called, as Stravinsky himself crawled to safety out a backstage window” (1)! I guess this is a different version of “Elvis has left the building”!
  • Arnold Schoenberg: “Madonna,” section 6 in Pierrot Lunaire.
    • Read carefully page 1133. Schoenberg completed this work in 1912. Realize that this is deliberately atonal (he would say “pantonal”). Note the use of Sprechstimme (“speech song”) instead of normal singing and Schoenberg’s description of this. Pierrot is the name of the main character, who is a clown by profession. “Pierrot Lunaire” can be translated “Moonstruck Pierrot” or “Pierrot in the Moonlight.” Pierrot Lunaire is a work made up of 21 poems or songs, though actually they are put into three groups of seven songs each. The subject matter of each 13-line poem is quite varied. This song called “Madonna” is a song to Mary when she is holding her son Jesus after he is taken down from the cross, the moment captured most famously in Michelangelo’s sculpture called the Pietà. (Although there is no scriptural account of this event, it is a common motif in tradition and art.) There is an allusion to a figurative warning Mary received in Luke 2:35 that “a sword shall pierce your own soul.” This song “Madonna” graphically captures the moment Mary, “the mother of sorrows,” cradles her dead son in her arms.
    • German lyrics and English translation; scroll down to number 6.
  • Giacomo Puccini:
    • Un bel dì vedremo” from Madama Butterfly.
      • Text and translation.
      • View an alternate version.
      • Puccini completed and first presented this opera in 1904. The story in this opera was roughly based on stories that had appeared in a play and short story in the late 1800s. Read carefully page 1133 for a brief summary of the story of an irresponsible American sailor who abandoned his bride (Cio-Cio-San, meaning “butterfly”) and returned to America. It is a tragic, heart-wrenching story. “Un bel dì vedremo” (“One Fine Day, We Will See”) is the play’s most famous aria. Sung in Act 2, it shows her longing for and fantasizing about her husband’s return one day. But the audience suspects that, deep down, this is an attempt to convince herself.
    • Nessun dorma” from Turandot.
      • Chapter 34, pages 1133–1134.
      • Italian text with translation.
      • The opera Turandot was composed primarily by Puccini, though he died in 1924 before it was finished. Franco Alfano completed the work, and it was first performed in 1926. The opera was based on plays that were in turn based on a centuries-old story. The opera is set in ancient Peking (now Beijing, China), where prince named Calàf falls in love with the cold-hearted and cruel princess Turandot. The story is nicely summarized on pages 1133–1134. After Calàf answers all Turandot’s riddles and wins the right to marry her, he makes her an offer. He will forfeit his life at dawn if she can discover his real name. By Act III, she is determined that no one in the town shall sleep until she learns his name. Thus, Calàf sings the aria “Nessun dorma” (“Let No One Sleep”).


Each week we will be looking at a set period from our past.  Although these are our ancestors, it will seem like we are studying a distant planet, inhabited by people with the strangest of habits.  Fortunately, these subjects of our observation give us abundant clues about who they are.  Their art, their writing, their technology, the way they do business, the way they govern themselves all feed into a picture we will attempt to paint for ourselves each week.  Understanding who they were will help us understand who we are.

Each week you will be given three or four questions pertaining to important topics covered in the materials provided in the question itself, the textbook, the lectures, the other materials provided, and my comments in my Live Session. You choose the one you like and post a response of 125 words or more.




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