Musical Musings

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Impressionistic Period

Monday, January 17, 2022 by Paula Augustine | Music History

The Impressionism Period

Go outside, lay on the ground and watch the clouds float by. Or stand on the beach and watch as the waves ebb in and out and watch the sands changing. Impressionism is like this. It isn't something detailed but rather more vague or blurred. There is an air of mystery, magic and wonder that surrounds Impressionistic music.

The painting is by Claude Monet, Sunrise. We are seeing a shoreline from a distance, blurry. We can feel the coolness of morning and maybe the story of those out on the water can unfold, just like the sun unfolds anew day. Art and music shared this Impressionism time period. It came out of the French area of Europe. It began around 1870 and ended after 1910. This time period is also shared with the Romantic and the 20th century time periods, overlapping them.

When we take clay and press a coin into it we can see the outline of the coin in the clay or its impression. This is where the word for the Impressionism period comes from. When we go to a party and feel the joy and fun in the room we might say the room has a fun atmosphere. The music and art of this time wanted to impress in our minds a picture or feeling or the atmosphere of the mood.

During this time composers would also use instruments in different ways such as the flute and clarinet playing low darker sounds or the horns being muted with a mute or a hand. Composers did not compose songs with an even rhythm. The rhythm changes although there is a written rhythmic style to follow.

We will look at the two most prominent composers of this time, Claude Debussy and Marice Ravel.