Images and Ideas in Modern French Piano Music: The Extra-Musical Subtext in Piano Works by Ravel, Debussy, and Messiaen

Images and Ideas in Modern French Piano Music: The Extra-Musical Subtext in Piano Works by Ravel, Debussy, and Messiaen

Images and Ideas in Modern French Piano Music: The Extra-Musical Subtext in Piano Works by Ravel, Debussy, and Messiaen

Images and Ideas in Modern French Piano Music: The Extra-Musical Subtext in Piano Works by Ravel, Debussy, and Messiaen

Excerpt

Visual images, whether realistic or fantastic, represent objects that are not defined solely by their visual attributes. Conveying far more than colors, shapes and structures, they may capture characters and moods, interactions and conflicts, symbols and concepts. Similarly, literary works not only portray people and situations, emotions and thoughts, but can just as easily speak of music--describing a work, probing the reactions it elicits, and even imagining the processes of its creator's mind--or of visual art.

Music, by contrast, has often been called a closed system; it does not represent, it is. While the discussion of how and to what degree music can be said to express emotions is still ongoing, the suggestion that this unique language might be capable of "portraying" anything other than musical components and structures, musical conflict and beauty, is often considered controversial and easily conjures up simplistic notions of "program music."

This study undertakes to show that some music can be understood as portraying and nuancing, commenting on and interpreting a non-musical stimulus, and to elaborate in detail just how this is achieved in a number of small musical works. The result reveals that there is a wealth of possible relationships between musical components and the extra-musical stimuli that presumably brought them into being. Readers will necessarily take exception with one or another interpretation, and they are heartily encouraged to do so! More perhaps than complacent consent, the urge to disagree with, or modify, a proposed interpretation will further the main purpose of this study: to heighten our sense of excitement at exploring just how composers express images of their mind's eye, impressions from nature and daily life, images gleaned from visual or poetic sources, as well as more complex ideas and spiritual concepts in musical language.

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