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Impressionism and Symbolism in Music

In Claude Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” the opening melody is played by the flute. Throughout the whole piece, the parts of the woodwind section – especially flute, oboe, and clarinet – are very prominent and lead the melody. String section also plays a major role, coming in during the dynamic parts of the piece. This work cannot be called a concerto even though woodwind instruments have their solo parts in it, because concerto usually consists of three movements and there is a firm structure within each of them. Prelude is a structureless piece and in this case, it is intended to be something of a musical illustration, a painting the people can hear. What is more, the term concerto itself implies that there is a competition between the soloists and the orchestra. In this prelude the soloists do not compete, but rather blend in with the melody and make it richer. Also, it is not unusual in orchestral music that wind instruments have solo parts.

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The tempo of the prelude is inconsistent, and it is hard to grasp the feel of meter. The piece seems fluid, one phrase is always linked to another and the music flows from start to finish. This fluidity may be the reason why there is no percussion in the arrangement, aside from the little bell rings towards the end of the song. The brass section is only represented by French horns in the score. In culture, fawns are known to play flutes, which are emulated by the woodwind section in this piece. Brass instruments would have seemed out of place in such music, as they are too loud and their sound is not as gentle, as of string and woodwind instruments. I would describe this prelude as a peaceful song, melancholic at times but full of subtle dynamics that keep the listener’s attention.

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