Claude Debussy – Jeux

Posted on August 7, 2012

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Debussy – Jeux

Jeux is an orchestral work composed by Claude Debussy commissioned by Serge Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes, one of the great innovative compositions of the early twentieth century setting the ground for a large number of young composers to experiment with a greater freedom of expression regarding the tonal, harmonic and rhythmic structure of music. This music is liberated from many of the constraints of earlier classical and romantic conventions, maintaining a basic sense of tonality, without the usual progressions along a series of harmonically related chords. The harmonies sensually blend into a texture that forms the background of a multitude of separate melodic elements built along some unusual, exotic scales.

Starting with a few disparate notes played on a harp and the rest of the orchestra gradually joining in Debussy creates an atmosphere of enigmatic twilight, where more and more details emerge for the observer – this is realised by short exotic motifs in constant change, played mainly by flutes and clarinets on a soft background of strings and harp. The rhythm is changeable as well, playful and full of surprises. One can notice various instruments “coming together” to play a few notes and then “separating”, giving place to other combinations of sounds and rhythms. The number of instruments sounding together also varies, determining the fluctuations in the overall intensity of the music.

The music was composed to serve for ballet – it is highly evocative of visual associations of light and motion. The lights on the stage would perhaps be soft with a multitude of colours and nuances gently blending with each other. I would imagine the characters getting closer and then farther to each other every few seconds, their movements being fast, elaborate, frequently changing direction and tempo, emotionally charged but gentle, without very large dramatic gestures.

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Posted in: Part 2