Contextual analyses of six "Etudes" for piano by Claude Debussy

Date of Completion

January 2004






Composed almost a century ago, Debussy's Twelve Etudes for piano continue to elude conventional analysis, due in large part to their inseparability from the cultural and historical circumstances of the time. This study explores unifying elements found within six of the etudes in the context of early modernism set against a backdrop of World War I. These unifying elements include appearances of cell-like recurring motives, dominant references in ambiguous tonal areas, and structural “gaps” that are addressed through the course of a work. Debussy ironically exploits the conventions of common-practice tonality in the service of his concern with sonority. Three etudes from each of the two books are analyzed. ^