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The Rhythm of ThoughtArt, Literature, and Music after Merleau-Ponty$
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Jessica Wiskus

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780226030920

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226031088.001.0001

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Harmony and the Movement of Style in Debussy

Harmony and the Movement of Style in Debussy

(p.77) 7 Harmony and the Movement of Style in Debussy
The Rhythm of Thought

Jessica Wiskus

University of Chicago Press

This chapter begins with an analysis of Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune and first focuses on the opening of the piece. The flute arabesque does not only offer to us a linear, melodic gesture; it initiates the opening of a harmonic world that will serve as the inspiration for the entire composition. Symmetrical whole steps, often described in terms of the whole-tone scale, also color the harmony of Debussy’s Prelude. Elements of symmetry can be found in the piece, but if it were only symmetry that gave rise to the harmony of the Prelude, there would be no movement. Movement arises through differentiation—through contrast, reinitiation, and noncoincidence. The harmonic motion of the Prelude, therefore, arises not out of symmetry but through the introduction of a key element of disruption.

Keywords:   flute arabesque, debussy, melodic gesture, harmonic world, symmetry, disruption, movement, differentiation

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