Debussy and the Musical Arabesque


While Moorish Arabesque focuses on the superficial, elegant and stylized floral patterns, which are also the foundations of the Art Nouveau period, Grotesque Arabesque focuses on the distorted anatomy and asymmetry of plant, animal and human figures.

Art Nouveau and Arabesque

Art Nouveau started in the 1890s and was effective until World War I. New Art It is an art period that means especially herbal drawings and curvy figures.

In Art Nouveau aesthetics, especially fear motifs, primitive arts, privacy and eroticism are sought. Art historian Cybele Gontar Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History In his article published in , he makes the following sentences about the spread of Art Nouveau:

“The reasons for the spread of Art Nouveau are the understanding of the curved lines of the movement as a metaphor for freedom, its release by its practitioners and fanatics from the weight of artistic tradition, from critical expectations.”

The combination of the tone-color-light movements of Art Nouveau "synesthesiatakes the name ”. Skriyabin's 1912 work “Prometheus” uses synesthesia.

Arabesque is one of the trends adopted in the Art Nouveau period. It was first used to denote decorations and carvings in architecture. “Moorish”And”GroteskThe art movement, which is divided into two as ”, is defined by the artists of the period as the most beautiful transmission form of romanticism.

While Moorish Arabesque focuses on the superficial, elegant and stylized floral patterns, which are also the foundations of the Art Nouveau period, Grotesque Arabesque focuses on the distorted anatomy and asymmetry of plant, animal and human figures.

Eduard Hanslick speaks of small and large curves formed during the movement of the Arabesque in 1854.

Baudelaire's Arabesque in an abstraction that originates from within itself He says he found it. Arabesque shows itself in music by associating it with architectural depiction.

Musical Arabesque and Debussy

Debussy first used and adopted the term Arabesque in 1893 after hearing Palestrina and Lassus in St. Gervais. Debussy states that the term Arabesque is an important element in Bach's music; Palestrina states that the music of Victoria and Lassus is the basis. Maurice Denis (1870-1943), one of the painters of the period, was one of Debussy's close friends.La Damoiselle ElueThe cover art of his work ” is also made by Denis. Denis says this about the work: “… an arabesque embroidered on paper, accompanied by impressive contours…”

In the 19th century, composers began to write ornate works under the title "Arabesque". Examples of these works Jean Sibelius, Arabesque, Op. 76; Robert Schumann, Arabeske in C, Op. 18; Anton Arensky, Op. 67; Hans von Bülow, Arabesques sur un thême de l'opéra Rigoletto etc. can be given.  

Debussy comments on the arabesque in music with his analysis of the 1901 Bach Violin Concerto in G Major:

” Pre-Renaissance musicians had an incredible sense of arabesque. Bach stretched the foundation laid by the Gregorian Hymns…”

Debussy, musical arabesque with the benefits of being an impressionist composer. "Strong contouring of a melodic motif, flow of individual sounds played freely by individuals" defines as.

Debussy and Arabesque Works The first Arabesque is known as the flowing arabesque. Ascending/descending triad arpeggios have a beginning in dominance. The rising and falling of the arpeggios refer to the curves in the architecture.

The second arabesque is known as the ornate arabesque. It appears to be more emotional. Just like the first, the second arabesque also benefits from the rise/fall of arpeggio and intervals.

Another Debussy work that is associated with arabesque is the "", which he wrote during his trip to France Solesmes (1892-1894).Prélude à L'après-midi D'un Faune” is the work. The initial dimensions are shaped by a triton that rises and falls to form a curved shape. plain-chant (Latin church hymnsFor an arabesque reference that will create a ) effect, modality and blurring in scale are used.

The desire of musical arabesque to create folds is a result of the inspiration of the arabesque understanding in classical music from this type of architecture. Composers reflect in their works the feelings evoked by the building designs.

Debussy's Pelleas and Mélisande opera is also an opera with arabesque inspirations. The libretto of the work is written by Maurice Maeterlinck, who is also the author of the Symbolist play of the same name.

In the first measures of the first part of the work; It opens with double basses and cellos playing quintuple intervals, seeking to depict images of a dark, untouched forest.

After four measures, Debussy adds an arabesque motif to woodwinds.

Thanks to the woodwinds, the reverse movement using triads creates modal chords and continues to enchant this primeval forest later in the scene.

Characteristics of the Musical Arabesque

I found it appropriate to finish the article in sequential order about the architectural decorations and the association related to music that I reached through the research I made.

Visual Arabesque                                       musical arabesque
Line Construction Curvy ornaments Fluency Embellishments Rotating line ornaments Interlocking ornamentsUsing Motif/Melody Ranges Ascending/Descending motifs Smooth melody, metric modulation Short notes, fast rhythms Parallel motion Reverse motion


Leyla Pamir, Breathe in Music
Norton Anthology – The Music in Renaissance
Carolyn Rose Rynex, Arabesque and Early Music Influence in Debussy's Trois Chansons de Charles d'Orleans
Cybele Gontar, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
Eduard Hanslick – On the Musically Beautiful


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