"Clair de Lune"—Debussy's Masterpiece From "Suite Bergamasque"

Updated on November 3, 2017
Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green discusses musical talent and explores different musical styles ranging from classical to rock.

Claude Debussy, Genius Behind the Music

In 1908
In 1908 | Source

Debussy Composes "Suite Bergamasque"

"Clair de Lune" is considered one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Debussy's genius shines throughout this piece. He wrote this composition in 1890 at the tender age of 25--an amazing feat for someone so young but it demonstrated his grasp of composition, which he employed so skillfully to produce a work that has become a timeless classic.

"Claire de Lune" (as we know it today) was not published until 1905. Its original name was “Promenade Sentimentale.” It underwent revision before publication. By that time, publishers were eager to cash in on Debussy's growing fame. The new title for the movement came from a poem written by Paul Verlaine that meant moonlight.

It is the third movement of Suite Bergamasque, one of the most loved and revered piano suites of Debussy. A masterpiece from the Impressionist epoch, it brings to mind mind moonlight, mist, and raindrops and evokes a number of emotions as it progresses.

Every once in a while, a person hears a piano piece and is so moved that even if only a novice piano player, they decide that if they learn one piece only, that that one is the one. For many, that one piece has been "Claire de Lune." Unsurprisingly, this haunting piece has been played by pianists the world over who have strived to master its intricacies and do it justice.

From Humble Beginnings...

Achille-Claude Debussy was born into a poor family, but he would go on to become one of the most important French composers working within the embrace of Impressionist music. His music encapsulates the transition from Romantic to Modernist music. In literary circles, his music was known as Symbolism.

Debussy Playing Piano in 1893

Playing in front of composer, Ernest Chausson
Playing in front of composer, Ernest Chausson | Source

Musical Influences

Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Liszt, Verdi.

The Boy and the Man Behind the Music

Claude was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France in 1862. He showed musical talent very early and the momentum only continued to build:

  • Began piano lessons at the age of 7
  • At 11 he entered the Paris Conservatoire
  • At the age of 22, in 1884, he won the Prix de Rome with his cantata L'Enfant prodigue in a competition for composers.
  • He later received a scholarship to Academie des Beaux-Arts
  • During the years 1888-1893, he composed Ariettes oubliées, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, and String Quartet
  • By 1895, he produced his opera, Pelléas et Mélisande
  • By the early 1900s, he was considered a leading figure in French music and had produced more notable works
  • Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1903
  • By 1905, Suite Bergamasque was published

Debussy's Death During World War I

Debussy left this world early. He died March 25, 1918, at the age of 55, as German armies entered and attacked France.

Loved and Hated

Debussy thought outside the box, and even as a lad, he was known to innovate.This would influence his later compositions. Though his skills progressed, his style of playing was considered unorthodox for the time, as he frequently utilized the whole tone scale and harmony, which gave his music a dream-like quality. He challenged established norms and was criticized for courting the unusual by utilizing rhythmic ambiguity and avoiding regularity in beat or phrase.

His work was loved and hated, praised and criticized, depending on who listened. While he spent his later years composing and performing, he would come to find public performances increasingly trying. He was humble and may have underestimated his own talent.

As is the case with many prodigies and musical geniuses, the compulsion to create something of beauty was more of a force than striving to be in the spotlight or impressing others. His nonconformity in his music also played out in his personal life, one marked by thoughts of suicide, scandalous love affairs, and an illegitimate daughter. His highly sensitive personality, his intensity, his bending of the rules, did not equip him for smooth passage in the world at large, but he raised the musical bar, producing work that both whetted listeners appetites and that had enormous impact, music that stood the test of time.

Let us at all costs preserve this magic peculiar to music...

— Achille-Claude Debussy

A Masterpiece That Stirs the Senses

"Claire de Lune" is considered by many challenging to learn and is a demanding piece for performers to interpret and execute. The composition includes a number of sharped notes and a shift to E Major and spans across a number of pages

It starts out in the key of D-flat Major with with a dreamy gentle opener, Andante tres expressif, which magnifies with a fuller repeat with chords, building momentum, then includes an octave section that segues into chords in Tempo rubato and then a pause, dim. molto, as if drawing a breath, before moving into the show stopper, a fast section in a wonderful rendering the reminds one of many raindrops pattering down on glittering water and that evokes a feeling of joy as it reaches a crescendo. By this time, most listeners are spellbound. The piece concludes with a reprise.

The work could be described as embodying: innocence, gentleness, hopefulness, poignancy, heartbreak, power, joyfulness, exuberance, reflection, peace. So many emotions are encapsulated within. Many, upon hearing this piece have been moved to tears.

In sum, Debussy has captured moonlight and magic remarkably. And all who have beauty in their souls come away touched after listening to this masterpiece.

A Beloved Section of Claire de Lune

Source

1862-1918

A nonconformist and the genius behind a remarkable piece of music.
A nonconformist and the genius behind a remarkable piece of music. | Source

The Magic and Mystery of "Claire de Lune" Set to Beautiful Images

Many have been so inspired by this piece, they have set the music to images, as seen in the videos below.

Suite Bergamasque

The four movements of Suite Bergamasque:

  1. "Prelude"
  2. "Menuet"
  3. "Clair de Lune"
  4. "Passepied"

Used in Best-Selling Movies

Exceptional music is timeless and thus it resonates with generation after generation. So, too, with Debussy's masterpiece. While it is generally rare for classical pieces to be incorporated into modern culture, the ethereally beautiful "Claire de Lune" has been used in many movies, such as:

  • Twilight
  • Casino Royale
  • Seven Years in Tibet
  • Down and Out in Beverly Hills
  • Ocean's Eleven

As well, it has been used in TV series and in mini-series.

Did You Know?

Debussy was one of the most highly regarded composers. And his music still has the power to touch millions.

"Claire de Lune" Facts

  • Who: composer Claude Debussy, one of the most important French composers who had an impact on impressionist music.
  • Why: inspired by Paul Verlaine's poems and was probably influenced by Verlaine's earliest collections. The name means moonshine or moonlight and is the name of one of Verlain's poems.
  • When: Debussy wrote "Claire de Lune" in 1890 and published it later.
  • What: the third movement for the piano, Suite Bergamasque.

How Do You Rate Claire de Lune?

See results

A Composition That Captures the Magic Debussy Talked About

Claude Debussy was one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. His harmonies would later influence other composers and different musical genres, his sensitive and emotionally charged music would transition well into movies, but "Claire de Lune" is still considered one of his best offerings to the world, a composition that captures the magic that Debussy talked about.

Questions & Answers

    © 2007 Athlyn Green

    Comments

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      • mperrottet profile image

        Margaret Perrottet 

        6 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        Wonderful hub. I used to play this piece on the piano, and always loved it. It makes me want to get back to playing again - haven't played in years. I put a link to this hub on my hub about Who Wrote the Adagio in G Minor. Voting your hub up, beautiful, interesting and sharing.

      • jamila sahar profile image

        jamila sahar 

        6 years ago

        Beautiful hub, on one of my favorite pieces. It is a sentimental piece for me as my father used to play this frequently and brings back a lot of pleasant memories. Thanks for sharing this.

      • Athlyn Green profile imageAUTHOR

        Athlyn Green 

        7 years ago from West Kootenays

        Hi IJR,

        Yes, it is so beautiful. I'm not familiar with the other composition--will have to check it out and have a listen.

      • IJR112 profile image

        IJR112 

        7 years ago

        I too love this piece of music. I play it a lot and listen to it frequently too. For whatever reason, I feel like his Reflets Dans L'eau is better though.

      • Athlyn Green profile imageAUTHOR

        Athlyn Green 

        7 years ago from West Kootenays

        Claire de Lune has captured emotions around the world and remains timeless. Debussy may have passed on but his music lives forever.

      • profile image

        Lisa 

        8 years ago

        This, I guess is one of my top favorites, if not my absolute favorite, and never fails to reduce me to tears when I'm in a vulnerable mood!

      • profile image

        Lara 

        9 years ago

        I LOVE CLAIR DE LUNE!!! I WANT TO LEARN HOW TO PLAY IT ON PIANO BUT OF COURSE I CANT PLAY PIANO... =[

      • profile image

        MayB 

        9 years ago

        And now this song use in twilight

      • profile image

        moonlit-fish 

        10 years ago

        Hi~I'm a 14ys old student from Taiwan and I found this website by an accident. I'm just saying that I love this piece, too! I think it's the best one I've ever played! Nice to meet someone who also likes Clair de Lune.

      • Athlyn Green profile imageAUTHOR

        Athlyn Green 

        10 years ago from West Kootenays

        Hi Warren,

        I would try typing in "guitar music for Claire de Lune" in your browser and see what comes up. You also may be able to order it from a music store.

      • profile image

        warren 

        11 years ago

        Magnifico.....

        Like raindrops..

        I am curious as to the whereabouts of sheet music for guitar for this piece of music.

        Thanks for any advice.

        Warren

      • Athlyn Green profile imageAUTHOR

        Athlyn Green 

        11 years ago from West Kootenays

        Hi Jim,

        Thank you for your comments. It's great to hear from others who also love this piece.

      • jimd56 profile image

        James Denice 

        11 years ago from las vegas NV

        I love music and also play

        this is a beautiful pieces of music

        I have been reading some of your pages nice work

        Jim

      • Athlyn Green profile imageAUTHOR

        Athlyn Green 

        11 years ago from West Kootenays

        Thank you, me too! I never tire of listening to it and am trying to commit it to memory--no small task as the sheet music is around 7 pages.

      • barryrutherford profile image

        Barry Rutherford 

        11 years ago from Queensland Australia

        Yes I like the piece very much. Well done...

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