Second Arabesque (Deux Arabesques, 1888)

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

The Second Arabesque is much more rhythmic than the first, and is much more straightforward. The first of Debussy’s published piano works, the Deux Arabesques are light pieces that probably date from a much earlier time: By 1888 Debussy had already published several works for piano and voice which have much greater sophistication than the Arabesques.

Emotional content: The second arabesque is very playful but to me is otherwise rather abstract. It is a louder piece, and has elements of mischief.

Shape and flow: The piece is in four sections: ABAC, with C being an integration of the themes from A and B. The A section is very playful, B is somewhat heavier. The transition from the second section A to section C is the dreamy part of the piece, but we quickly wake up for the climax in section C. There is lots of dynamic variation and contrast in this piece, with lots of fortes and pianissimos.


This piece is rather straightforward, and you can’t go too wrong if you just pay attention to Debussy’s markings.

Section A:

From Schmitz: The small ornaments of the right hand, particularly the 16th note triplets, should be timed exactly.

This section is very light, and I avoid the pedal as much as possible, being careful to maintain the indicated phrasing in the right hand. Note the large number of rests and staccato notes.

Section B:

This section is heavier, so I use more pedal. But not too much: there are still a lot of staccato notes.

From Schmitz: This section is “sturdy” and should not be “robbed of this character”. Watch the phrasing throughout this section. In measure 39, the top melody should remain staccato: “the four dots on the last four eighth-notes are missing”. The upper voice in measure 40 should be slurred by twos, so measures 38-40 match measures 46-49.

Maybe I agree with Schmitz here and maybe not.

Section A reprise to section C:

Measures 82-90 are a dreamy transition and setup for the ending climax of section C. I treat these measures delicately and transparently, but with lots of pedal. This requires a careful touch.

Section C begins with measure 90, which provides a strong contrast to the preceding measures in just about every aspect. I use very little pedal here until measure 94, then lay it on slowly building up to the climax in measure 100. Then at measure 100 the we have a very strong clear climax. I use the pedal to emphasize the forte chords, but avoid it otherwise. Note the very strong dynamic drop-off in the last four measures.

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One comment on “Second Arabesque (Deux Arabesques, 1888)

  1. brian says:

    Hi I am very interested in your website and eagerly awaiting your essays on the other works as well. I am sort of an intermediate piano learner dabbled in it for a few years, and really into Debussy this whole year.
    Been learning this 2nd arabesque and it is one of my favorites from him. Had a majorly difficult time trying to nimbly play the 34 or 45 fingers on right hand for the repeated motif and it really was laborious to get it to a point where it is listenable now.

    I love how the main climax to this piece is a serene ethereal harmony setup ; debussy for some reason for me, has always a measure or two that just pops out as ethereal and otherworldly in almost every piece he wrote.

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