Debussy's 'Ibéria'

By Hart, Brian | Notes, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Debussy's 'Ibéria'


Hart, Brian, Notes


Debussy's 'Ibéria'. By Matthew Brown. (Studies in Musical Genesis and Structure.) New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. [xv, 177 p. ISBN 0-19-816199-9. $85.] Music examples, bibliography, index.

One of Debussy's most significant works, the Images for orchestra have stood somewhat in the shadow of earlier masterpieces like Nocturnes and La mer. Matthew Brown provides us with an in-depth study of Iberia, the center trilogy of Images. His book has a double purpose: it explains the genesis of Debussy's work and provides an analysis, then moves beyond Debussy to place this analysis into a larger context, to be explained below.

The first part of the study deals with the compositional history and aesthetic context of Ibéria. For this work the composer uncharacteristically left a substantial body of sketches, and Brown carefully extracts the information they have to oiler. Through these sketches Brown observes that Ibéria, like most of Debussy's compositions, took shape over a long period (1903-10) and went through numerous revisions, some of them drastic.

Ibéria is the most substantial of Debussy's Spanish soundscapes, and the author asks what gives the piece the authentic flavor so praised by Manuel de Falla among others. Brown identifies its "Spanish" elements as idiosyncratic motivic formulae (though not actual folk themes); modal harmonies and pedal points; rhythms of regional dances, especially the sevillana and habanera; and the inclusion of native instruments (castanets) as well as suggestions of others (e.g., numerous orchestral "guitar" effects). Save for one brief jaunt across the border to watch a bullfight, Debussy never visited Spain, so he did not learn its music on-site. Brown shows, however, that Debussy had plenty of opportunities to absorb Iberian sounds in Paris, then home to Isaac Albéniz, Falla, Joaquín Turina, and Ricardo Vines. Spanish or Spanish-themed compositions regularly appeared on Parisian concerts.

In order to examine the thematic and tonal structure most effectively, Brown adopts a Schenkerian approach, which he finds illuminating despite Debussy's heterodox treatment of harmony and form. The composer's greatest challenge in Ibéria was to create a work of three independent yet deeply interconnected movements. Brown shows that Debussy ensures continuity throughout the work by means of constant and often subtle motivic transformations. Further, his graphs indicate that the background harmonic structure follows relatively conventional norms, however unpredictable the foreground may be.

In the second part of the book, Brown considers the genesis of each movement in greater detail. The sketches reveal that Debussy arrived at the final forms through painstaking experimentation. Techniques he employed to organize his material include tonal modeling, or the reworking of one section to create another; inserting a section of one movement into part of a subsequent one; and auxiliary cadences, in which the movement ends on the tonic but begins elsewhere.

Brown's insights into Ibéria prove highly illuminating; his book is lucidly written and extremely generous with examples and documentation. It helps to have a score at hand, but even the most involved parts of the analysis flow easily, and one need not be either a specialist in Schenker or sketch studies to follow it. Regarding the presentation, I note only the erroneous labeling of "Jeux de vagues" as the third movement of La mer (p. 126), and the overuse of certain phrases, especially "top-down bottom-up" in reference to Debussy alternating between foreground and broader perspectives when contemplating his compositional choices for each movement. One might also welcome an interpretation of the cover photo of the famous Spanish dancer Caroline Otéro (1868-1965), who otherwise makes no appearance in the text.

Brown regards his study of Ibéria as an illustration of a second and (to him) more important project. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Debussy's 'Ibéria'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.