A bit of French Impressionism | SteamboatToday.com

A bit of French Impressionism

— French Impressionism. The name immediately brings to mind Monet, Renoir and Degas. But Debussy and Ravel?

Well, only to those in the “classical know.”

French Impressionism covers an entire era, encompassing painting, literature, poetry and music.

Just as Monet and Renoir sought to capture the feelings of an event (as opposed to the actual event itself), so too did the French Impressionist composers.

Achille-Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel are indisputably the most well known French composers of that time. Debussy, by and large, led the movement in its beginning stages.

Although he rejected the concept of Musical Impressionism, Debussy’s music is complete with the very elements that define the genre: bitonality, parallelism, long pedal points and whole tone scales. In other words, blurred, dreamy, ethereal pieces.

Gone was the standard major and minor scales. In came “tonal color,” setting a mood and an atmosphere. The formal structures of sonatas and symphonies were mostly abandoned. Whole tone chords predominated. Rebelling against the emotionalism of the Romantic Era (most notably Richard Wagner), the Impressionists embraced ambiguous musical forms, often leaving the piece unresolved.

Two of Debussy’s pieces will be performed Saturday at the Strings in the Mountains Chamber Music Series concert titled “French Favorites”. Those pieces are “String Quartet in G Minor” and “Piano Trio in G.”

The latter is rarely played, mostly because the manuscript had disappeared until 20 years ago. Now in circulation, the trio showcases Debussy before his Impressionist style was refined.

It is a sentimental piece, reminiscent of the French salons. The selection of these two pieces offers a unique look into the evolution of Debussy’s compositions.

Maurice Ravel, 10 years Debussy’s junior, also is considered an Impressionist master.

His pieces, however, reflect much more. Ravel considered himself a Classicist and was largely influenced by Mozart in addition to American jazz, Far Eastern music and traditional European folk tunes.

These influences are quickly heard in his “Piano Trio in A Minor,” also being performed Saturday.

Curiosity of Musical Impressionism is not the only reason to attend “French Favorites.”

Several internationally recognized musicians also are performing — pianist Alon Goldstein, violinists Arnaud Sussman and Joseph Lin, cellists David Hardy and Marc Johnson and Strings in the Mountains co-music directors Yizhak Schotten and Katherine Collier.

“French Favorites” begins at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are available online at http://www.stringsinthemountains.com or by calling the box office at 879-5056, ext. 105. As with all Strings in the Mountains concerts, the Cafe is open both before the concert and during intermission.

Cafe, Impressionism, a glass of Bordeaux — all here in the Rocky Mountains. Joie de vivre!

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