The Sound of Colors Debussy


“I have the freedom to draw flowers and call them flowers without having to tell a story”

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Impressionism, which started in France in the 19th century and influenced all branches of art in a short time (impressionism), takes its philosophy from Ernest Mach (1838-1916)'s thoughts on the sensuous understanding of art. The concept of 'sensation complexes' in Mach's philosophyMechanicalHe summarizes in his book:

Sensations are not 'symbols of things'; The 'thing', on the contrary, is a mental symbol of relative stability, a complex of sensations. The real elements of the world are not things, but colors, sounds, pressures, spaces, times, which are what we ordinarily call sensations.

It is clearly seen that Mach put the sensations in the first place of perception. As what is meant by the opposite is better understood, Descartes' 'I think therefore I am.' mentioned in Andre Guine's ''Blessings of the World''I feel, therefore I am.' form and is a summary of this situation.

A Magical World: Impressionism

Impressionism movement first showed itself in the art of painting. It has opened a new horizon by taking it from an area where people are stuck with realism like photography. A person who is bored with the cold realism of reason and logic; He no longer wanted to see those around him as only the body and only matter, he avoided all materialist and determinist philosophies in order to be understood and understood spiritually, and gave importance to meaning, not matter.

The first artists to emerge from realism were painters. The Impressionism movement first started with the paintings of painters such as C. Monet, C. Pisarro, E. Degas, Auguste Renoir, which leave an impression at first glance and lack details and precise lines. Instead of seeing an object in detail, painters were painting it with subtle plays of light, brush strokes to be clear. These paintings, which show the outside world as if looking behind a tulle curtain instead of the naked eye, were intended to leave an impression on the person. This feeling is named after Monet's "Exhibited in Paris in 1874".Impression: Soleil Levant” (Impression: Sunrise). This painting depicts the sunrise on the sea. The term "Impressionism" was initially used to criticize both the work of the above-mentioned painters and this painting.

Monet 1874 – Soleil Levant

As the emotions were transferred to the paintings, the effects of the music began to sound. When Claude Debussy completed his education and returned to Paris in 1886, he was influenced by this trend and tried to capture this interiority in his music. Debussy was not only influenced by this, but also influenced the artist by the symbolist movement that started in the field of poetry.

Symbolism emerged in the field of literature as a reaction to realism, and Baudelaire'sforest of symbols' he had found his ground with his expression.

Was Debussy an Impressionist?

If there is one thing that should not be ignored, Debussy sees himself closer to symbolism with his life and compositions than impressionism. He was angry that he was called an 'impressionist' by music historians, and he responded as 'idiots' to those who ascribed this title to him.

So why do we find Debussy and his works close to impressionism?

Because, in addition to this discourse, he also agreed with the idea that music conveys a series of impressions. He was also influenced by the aesthetic approach of impressionist painters. Perhaps the point Debussy wanted to be understood was that the fact that what he did was under the title of impressionism narrowed his boundaries, because he pursued a more global beauty rather than being bound by any rules, any school or musical language throughout his music life.

Although Debussy thought so for Impressionism, he observed this trend in the close art circle, and saw that in the works of painters, he aimed to give an instant image and the impression left by this image after a cloud of fog or water droplets. Although he uses angry expressions for this impressionist label, his letters show the opposite of this situation.

In a letter to Edgard Varèse in 1910, Debussy wrote, 'I love pictures almost as much as music' he admitted.

Towards the end of his life he wrote to Émile Vuillermoz, editor of the musical La Revue:

You do me a great honor by calling me a student of Claude Monet.

Impressionist Notes in Debussy Music

Debussy's style became one of the most important movements shaping 20th century music. While he was a student, his defiance of traditional rules was noted for his opposition to the harmonic styles of post-Wagnerians such as Mahler and R. Strauss. He argued that more elegant elements should dominate the music, just as poets and painters had accomplished. He envisioned his music to create the feeling of being improvised, as if it had never been scored. Debussy tried to reduce the images to sound level and reflect their essence, experimenting with this in his compositions.

Tone and color were very important to Debussy. In the orchestra, he preferred pure timbres to electrifying powerful effects. He acted meticulously on instrument combinations, preventing the mixing of sound colors, and tried to preserve the original timbre of the instrument.

He gave priority to wood blowing, putting an end to the superiority of copper blowing. Celesta often made use of the mysterious colors of instruments such as the harp, glockenspiel and gong, and especially used the harp not as an auxiliary function, but in a way to display its unique colors and timbres.

Concepts such as stillness, restraint, and avoidance of emphasis were important in Impressionist music. C. Debussy's admiration for pure sound had a striking and colorful effect. Technically speaking, this situation arose from the ambiguity of tonality, the general stability of harmony, the distinction between melody and accompaniment. The general tone was much more important to the composer C. Debussy than the lines of a song. As a result, a bright color tone arose similar to the paintings of “impressionist” painters. Impressionist music ultimately depends on mood.

Part of the reason Debussy's style was called impressionistic was because of his pictorial imagery and elegant coloring.

With the names Debussy gave to his works, we can see how close he is to impressionist paintings. La soireé dans Grenade (Evening in the Grenade), Poissons d'or (Golden fish), and La Cathédrale Engloutie (Sunken Cathedral), Preludes, Masques (The Masks) showcase Debussy's imagination and emotions.

Debussy and Imagination

Monet's painting Nympheas Bleus (Blue Water Lilies), and Debussy's composition Images, Livre, I-Reflets, Dans I'eau (Reflections, in Water Drops) can be considered together.

Debussy said the following for this composition;

Music is the flow of water, waves and winds… If we ignore these beauties, we cannot understand music, we cannot appreciate it.

Debussy was also inspired by Hokusai's engravings. Influencing poets and painters, Hokusai's “Great Wave” would adorn the partitur cover of Debussy's symphonic poem “The Sea / La Mer”.

Debussy said the following words for his work La Mer- Diologe du vent et de la mer (Dialogue of the wind and the sea):

I have made mysterious nature my religion. I followed nature's prayer to feel the enchanting rocks.

These words are almost parallel to Monet's La Roche Percee, Etretat (hollow rock).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art The Manneporte near Etretat | Claude Monet

Debussy La Cathedral e Engloutie (Sunken Cathedral) The inspiration for the work of Preludes is based on a Bretonnian legend that is supposed to take place in the 5th century.

It is said that a cathedral that sank due to the public's profanity sometimes comes to the surface at sunrise. Impressed by this story, the composer wrote this piece and said that it includes the reflection of visible or imagined images on the water, bells and hymns.

We can see the same feelings in a different way in Monet's Houses of Parliament.

Claude Monet Houses of Parliament, London” (Art Institute of Chicago)

Debussy was inspired by poems, paintings, nature. He preferred to observe his surroundings and to find and produce a response in his soul for them.

As we have given examples above, we can enrich the work of many more artists with the work of another artist.

Since Debussy cannot explain it better than himself, I end this part of my article in his own words.

In an interview with Henry Malherbe in 1911, Debussy's interpretation of fantastic nature and music was as follows;

I have made Mysterious Nature my religion … When I look at the sunset sky and spend hours contemplating its ever-changing beauty, I feel a unique feeling.

Here are the trees with branches spreading towards the sky, perfumed flowers smiling in the plain, here the soft earth carpeted with weeds.

And, emotionlessly, the hands take the position of admiration. . . Feeling the powerful and disturbing landscapes that nature invites temporary, temporary passers-by. . . .

I call this prayer. The sound of the sea, the curve of the horizon, the wind in the leaves, the cry of a bird bed within us are multiple impressions and suddenly in the world without expressing the least, one of these memories speaks of us and is expressed in the language of music.

It carries its harmony within itself. Try as we please, we cannot find more or more intimate harmony. Only in this way a heart devoted to music makes the most beautiful discoveries.


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