Prelude (Suite Bergemasque, 1890 – 1905)

(Here are my thoughts about playing this piece. Please add your thoughts in the comments at the bottom.)

A bergamasque is a 16th-century Italian dance, which in 1890’s France would evoke an archaic form of music (Roberts, p. 91).  Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque is a collection of four pieces: Prelude, Menuet, Clair de Lune and Passepied.  With the exception of Clair de Lune these are obviously early Debussy pieces, classical in form and, while very pleasant, only hint at the depth of Debussy’s later piano works. Two of the pieces, Menuet and Passepied are named for dance forms (though they are only remotely in those forms).

The Prelude is an opening piece for the suite with much grandeur and an almost archaic classical feel.  Though it has a conventional forte, piano, forte structure, it also contains many changes, showing an almost improvisational style.  Though it can sound improvised on first listening, this improvisational feel is the result of writing with close attention to structure and detail.  To me this anticipates the chamber sonatas Debussy wrote towards the end of his life.

OK, I’ll admit that I never would have given this piece much attention if it were not in the Suite Bergamasque.  It is the least compelling piece of the suite.  But once I got into it I discovered that it is quite a lot of fun to play.  It also makes a great warmup piece when starting a Debussy piano session.  Played with enthusiasm and careful attention to detail it makes a grand opening.

Emotional Content: This piece is basically in a classical form and mood, with with a grand enthusiasm showing through.  This enthusiasm is brought out via quick contrasts, such as between the grandeur in mm. 1-2 and the elegance of mm. 3-4.

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7 comments on “Prelude (Suite Bergemasque, 1890 – 1905)

  1. Rob M. says:

    I’ve just started on this piece. I was told it was the best place for an early-advanced piano student to start with Debussy. I’m not so sure I believe that now.
    I find that it does, in it’s own way, paint a vivid picture and conveys the opera-like emotional journey that Debussy is known for.
    All these elements make playing it a challenge, one that compels us to play it, I suppose. Where I would usually just do a chord analysis of a piece before starting it, I also do a dynamics analysis- and often, rhythm and fingering analysis.

    So I just found your web site while searching for Debussy analysis. I’ll be back.

  2. Claude Debussy…

    Debussy was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music…….

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  7. BJJ says:

    Ce prélude, en apparence archaïque et improvisé, demande un approche impressionniste et imaginative (au sens de Chopin) certainement plus importante que pour les pièces plus connues comme le Clair de Lune.
    Il a donc un petit défit à l’interpréter avec imagination, personnalité et expressivité. Je guide ma fille (qui apprend ce morceau) en lui demandant de dire très spontanément ce quelle imagine comme une série de flashs, improvisés par l’émotion de la musique.
    Cet exercice très émotionnel me semble intéressant à faire de manière très spontanée afin qu’elle puisse, non pas mettre une histoire (surtout pas rationaliser!) mais au contraire remplir naturellement la musique d’image.émotionnelles. Les adolescents peuvent être très bons dans cet exercice mais il faut parfois le inciter sans les influencer dans leur imagination. JJ.

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