“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”

Monday, February 10, 2020

Debussy's Arabesque Number One: Easier than it Looks

     A student complains that after much effort he's
Claude Debussy 1862-1918
unable to master measures 34-36 in Debussy's Arabesque Number One, an early exploration of the composer's still emerging impressionism. Debussy reportedly sought to represent in music the Art 
Gustav Klimt, Art Nouveau
Nouveau style, one in which visual art mimics shapes in nature. He was also apparently enthralled with music of the Baroque, a time "when music was subject to the laws of beauty inscribed in the movements of Nature herself.”

Arabesque No. 1, MM 31-38
Claude Debussy
      The student explains that he's "making every effort not to cling to the keys, especially the thirds. But, especially when playing the second and third note of each triplet, there's a sense of reaching for
Art Nouveau in Architecture
the next third." 
This student is already on the right track, having rejected the editor's fingering and added his own, playing all of the thirds with 5-3. He has also identified the technical problem, though perhaps without realizing it: clinging to the keys. He feels "tight and tangled up."

      The solution to this problem comes under the heading "The score tells us how the music sounds, not how it feels in our hands." It's a grouping issue primarily, with a hint of shaping. Begin each group with the thumb and shape a little under to the chord, which will be a little higher. Get off of the chord in order to land back on the next thumb, which helps send the hand to the next chord. The pedal will disguise any unwanted disconnect. For an enhanced illusion of legato, voice the chords firmly to the top. (Click the image to enlarge.)
Debussy Arabesque No. 1
MM 31-38 with technical suggestions

     If there is a sense of stretching from the second finger to the chord, as you play the second finger, angle the arm/hand slightly in the direction of the music, to the right. This allows the hand to be closer to the chord and open a bit more without stretching. When the hand is flat and directly perpendicular to the keys, as this student's hand appears to be in the video he supplied, it is less flexible. Remember, we can be at any angle with the keyboard as long as we remain straight with the finger/hand/arm alliance.

     I hope this helps.

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