Chinese and Other Asian Influences in Debussy's Piano Music

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Alabama Libraries

This project investigates the relationship between Claude Debussy’s piano music and various Asian influences, with a particular focus on Chinese influences. Debussy is one of the most prominent composers in the history of Western music, and his music draws on many features for inspiration, among which Asian elements and impressionism are the most representative. Debussy was inspired by Asian music, literature, and painting in many compositions, giving these works distinctive sound qualities as well as artistic appeal.Based on a comprehensive study of scholarly literature as well as theoretical analysis, this project explores several Asian influences on Debussy and offers reasons for the formation of Asian style in Debussy’s music. Particular elements of Asian style examined include Japanese prints and painting, Javanese gamelan music, and the Chinese pentatonic scale. Through the analysis of several of Debussy’s piano pieces, including “Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut”, “La fille aux cheveux de lin”, and Le palais du silence, this study discusses how Debussy’s exotic colors reflect various Asian styles. Additionally, through research on Chinese music history and theory, this project compares and summarizes several differences between Chinese music and Debussy’s own music in various compositions. It also analyzes three Chinese piano pieces in order to make comparisons with Debussy’s music. This research supports the conclusion that Asian influences, including Chinese elements, endowed Debussy with indispensable inspiration and artistic expression in his musical compositions.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Asian, Chinese Music, Debussy, Piano