Debussy Analysis: 'Pour le piano: Sarabande'

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Debussy: Structure:

1.    Baroque dances are usually in binary form. Double bar line (22) is a slight indication of a division between A and B.

2.    Modified repeat of opening music (23-72) characteristic of binary form.

3.    Suggested ternary form – modified repeat of A (42). However, it’s in the ‘wrong’ key.

4.    1st 22 bars form a short ternary structure, which includes rondo-like patchwork and a Sarabande rhythm.

5.    Rondo elements: main theme recurs in the same key, separated by various episodes e.g. theme A (bars 1-8).

6.    Characteristic use of immediate repetition, e.g. 1-2 is repeated in bars 3-4 with slight embellishment. 

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Debussy Tonality:

1.    Much of the music is in an Aeolian mode version of C# minor.

2.    Tonal ambiguity, e.g. melody (1-2) could represent E major, whereas the harmonisation is closer to C# minor.

3.    Bars 1-22 are chiefly in C# Aeolian minor, but there’s tonal contrast in the middle – A# replaces A natural.

4.    Tonal contrast (29-30). Modal F# minor featured 35-38, low C#-F#-F# outline.

5.    Opening is repeated (42-45) 1st chord of D major makes tonality unclear.  

6.    New material (bars 50-56) which is tonally complex and ambiguous. 

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Resources/Performing Forces

Debussy: Resources/PF:

1.    Just over 5 octaves of the complete range are used. Preference for the rich tones of the middle and lower registers, e.g. sonorous bass notes of final bar.

2.    Performance direction ‘with slow and solemn elegance’ captures the triple time mood of the Sarabande.

3.    The piece doesn’t depend on virtuosic effect (Marguerite Long quote).

4.    Wide range from several very low C#s (bar 67) to E just over 5 octaves higher (bar 39).

5.    Bright legato sounds of the piano are exploited (bars 39-40).

6.    Left-hand chord extensions spread to well over an octave due to their complexity of notes (e.g. bar 19). 

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Debussy: Texture:

1.    Texture is principally chordal and sometimes all parts move together, giving a homorhythmic texture (e.g. bars 1-2).

2.    Melody-dominated homophony – top part stands apart from unified accompaniment (bars 9-12).

3.    Most chords are dense and sonorous, i.e. massive ten-note chord in bar 53.

4.    Short passages of bare octaves (5-6; 20-22) create a dynamic contrast to other full textures.

5.    Varied and resourceful use of parallelism, e.g. 6-note chords at the start; 4-note chords under the melody, and; 8-note chord streams (35-41).

6.    Texture is almost entirely homophonic. 

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Debussy: Rhythm:

1.    Customary for a Sarabande, the piece is in simple triple time (3/4).

2.    Again as customary, the second beat is emphasised in many bars (2, 4, 8 etc).

3.    Continuous semiquaver chords, notably in ‘chord streams’ of 39-45 (just before reprise).

4.    A 2-semiquaver-quaver figure (5) or the reverse (1st time 23) shows rhythmic variety.

5.    Important triplet quavers, but these only occur in the melody first heard at the start (1-4).

6.    The whole piece has considerable rhythmic variety. 

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Debussy: Melody:

1.    Melody moves narrowly in most phrases with a mixture of conjunct movement.

2.    Melody moves narrowly with small leaps of a 3rd (bar 4) or a 4th (21-22).

3.    Extended compass when an important cadence or sectional break is approached (7-8; 38-41; and the end - 67-71). 

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Debussy: Harmony:

1.    Non-functional harmony – tonic, dominant and subdominant chords don’t establish keys.

2.    Successions of sensuous chords are related to each other by systematic parallelism, e.g. melodic accompaniment (11-12) and chord streams (35-41).

3.    Some ‘novel’ cadences as chords that are a 3rd apart are used – respectively E major to G# minor in the opening phrase.

4.    Many parallel 5ths are ‘relished’, most likely for their archaic, organum-like sound, e.g. 50-54.

5.    One of the earliest uses of quartal harmony, e.g. bar 23.

6.    Melody is re-harmonised when it returns, i.e. different, striking re-harmonisation of the opening melody (42-45). 

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