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YouTube: Debussy’s Nocturnes

It’s easy to forget sometimes, but Claude Debussy was one of the most brash, audacious composers to ever have lived. Debussy was one of the great musical pioneers of his generation, taking the tonal work of Franz Listz and Richard Wagner to new extremes, and completely disregarding traditional forms.

It’s easy to forget, because while his music remains original to this day, it is also incredibly listenable. The experimentation of Debussy never extends itself to the point where it looses its beauty. Pieces like Claire de Lune and Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun are simultaneously fun little bonbons, and incredibly forward looking works of art. Richard Wagner may have opened the door to modern tonality with the famous Tristan Chord, but Debussy was the first to walk through it.

These three nocturnes by Debussy are a bit more challenging to listen to than the above mentioned works, but just as rewarding. The link is only of the first two; the third features a women’s chorus, and is thus rarely performed. When presented in concert, the third nocturne is often omitted. When speaking of Arnold Schoenberg, music critic Alex Ross speaks of “Martian winds,” as though Schoenberg’s music were coming from a different planet altogether. With the opening few bars of the first nocturne, we hear the first faint whispers from that alien breeze. Take some time to sit down and really listen to – not just hear – this music. Close the other browser windows you have open. Pause that text conversation you’re having with a friend for fifteen minutes. This music will reward you for doing so.

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