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We use the term "musical impressionism" most often in reference to Debussy and his ilk. But how well does this term translate from the world of art? And, for that matter, what exactly is impressionism in art? We all know it when we see it, but what exactly is the official definition? And then, how well does this term apply to music? And why do we say Debussy is impressionistic, but Hindemith is not?

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It all comes down to the impressions impressionist music or art has on you, if it so impresses you to be impressive then for sure its expressive and therefore impressionistic, but if on the other hand if fails to impress you to be impressionistic, then its expressively not impressive enough for you to sound impressionistic enough to be called impressionism...

I hope that I have impressed upon you my expression of the differences of impressionisms in an impressive and impressionistic manner  

:)

Yes, exactly the images I got!

Kristofer Emerig said:

I believe it would be music with the express purpose of evoking particular, extra-musical imagery. I might have said mood or atmosphere as well, but most music seems to suggest those in some manner.

 

Canon in E Locrian, for instance, is an impressionistic piece cleverly disguised as a horrifying experiment in counterpoint gone awry. It paints a picture of being chased around the intersection of 95th and Halsted on a gloomy thursday afternoon (at 4:17PM) by three demonic, murderous clowns, two in polkadots, one in motley. You can hear clearly at 1:35 in the piece as one clown trips over his over-sized shoe and is run over by a rusty green '74 vega wagon with one brown fender.

Oh boy, I think this threads in for a difficult passage...
 
Saul Dzorelashvili said:

It all comes down to the impressions impressionist music or art has on you, if it so impresses you to be impressive then for sure its expressive and therefore impressionistic, but if on the other hand if fails to impress you to be impressionistic, then its expressively not impressive enough for you to sound impressionistic enough to be called impressionism...

I hope that I have impressed upon you my expression of the differences of impressionisms in an impressive and impressionistic manner  

:)

Im going to expand on the two answers already given. 

Impressionism is the term referring to the artistic movement in France that encompasses roughly from 1840-1920. The term itself comes from the 1867 painting "Impression: Sun Rising" by Claude Monet

Impressionism became a term of derision to describe the hazy, luminous paintings of Monet and his followers. The Impressionist abanded the grandiose subjects of the Romanticism. Their focus shifted from the human form to light itself, and in a way music would follow suit for some composers. 

French composers, such as Debussy, began to feel that the major-minor system had been exhausted and began to seek out new scales and revisited old and (at the time dead) church modes of the middle ages. Fourths and fifths moving in parellel movement became very attractive. Scales and modes introduced by the Russian nationalist composers where also new and exiciting for these French composers. 

However, the most important event for the impressionist movement came in 1889, with the World Exposition in Paris. Here, Debussy heard for the very first time Javanese gamelan music and chinese orchestras. Inspired, Debussy, Ravel, and other impressionist composers began exploring sound color. Much like the painters of the impressionist movement, composers were obsessed with color and creating an almost hazy mist of music. Some of the more common traits one can find in impressionist music are the following:

  • Parallel harmonies
  • Orchestral colors that were not found in the previous musical periods. 
  • Chromatic and whole-tone scales
  • ninth chords
  • chords built on fourths and fifths
  • blurred rhythms and obstruction of the beat
  • small forms

One of the best examples of all these traits can be found in Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. 

Much like the visual side of impressionism, the music as well, abandoned heroic characters and triumphant music and favored music that was ment to be enjoyed for pure pleasure; almost audible indulgence. 

I hope this helped you understand the impressionistic movement more. 

Permalink Reply by Kristofer Emerig 44 minutes ago   

I believe it would be music with the express purpose of evoking particular, extra-musical imagery. I might have said mood or atmosphere as well, but most music seems to suggest those in some manner.

 It's interesting that Debussy himself disliked the term. Yet he is THE musical impressionist. Even his "absolute" music, such as his wonderful chamber sonatas and string quartet, somehow sound impressionistic. Perhaps all his music strikes us as impressionistic, since it all has his unique harmonic language.

But I'm still wondering why the term was coined in the first place. Was it just that impressionistic art was in vogue, and people simply appropriated the term, since Debussy was French?

Oh, and the candy wrapper, it was obviously a Tootsie Roll.

I mean the whole idea of trying to put music into words is kinda strange for me...

Oh almost forgot

Jazz had a huge influence on Impressionism. Jazz became very very popular in France during turn of the 20th century and slowly made its way into the music of Debussy of Ravel. Best example of that is Ravels Piano Concerto in G major; a lot of passages that hint at jazz in the piece. 

Tyler Hughes said:

Im going to expand on the two answers already given. 

Impressionism is the term referring to the artistic movement in France that encompasses roughly from 1840-1920. The term itself comes from the 1867 painting "Impression: Sun Rising" by Claude Monet

Impressionism became a term of derision to describe the hazy, luminous paintings of Monet and his followers. The Impressionist abanded the grandiose subjects of the Romanticism. Their focus shifted from the human form to light itself, and in a way music would follow suit for some composers. 

French composers, such as Debussy, began to feel that the major-minor system had been exhausted and began to seek out new scales and revisited old and (at the time dead) church modes of the middle ages. Fourths and fifths moving in parellel movement became very attractive. Scales and modes introduced by the Russian nationalist composers where also new and exiciting for these French composers. 

However, the most important event for the impressionist movement came in 1889, with the World Exposition in Paris. Here, Debussy heard for the very first time Javanese gamelan music and chinese orchestras. Inspired, Debussy, Ravel, and other impressionist composers began exploring sound color. Much like the painters of the impressionist movement, composers were obsessed with color and creating an almost hazy mist of music. Some of the more common traits one can find in impressionist music are the following:

  • Parallel harmonies
  • Orchestral colors that were not found in the previous musical periods. 
  • Chromatic and whole-tone scales
  • ninth chords
  • chords built on fourths and fifths
  • blurred rhythms and obstruction of the beat
  • small forms

One of the best examples of all these traits can be found in Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. 

Much like the visual side of impressionism, the music as well, abandoned heroic characters and triumphant music and favored music that was ment to be enjoyed for pure pleasure; almost audible indulgence. 

I hope this helped you understand the impressionistic movement more. 

Yes and Gershwin was also popular in france,,,

Thank you Tyler! You have given us a great refresher course in impressionist painting, and how it influenced the changes in music that began more or less with Debussy. His La Mer may be the most impressionistic piece for orchestra ever written. (Another wonderful sea piece is The Oceanides by Sibelius, a composer not often though of as impressionistic, but who certainly could be when he wanted to). What a time that must have been! The paintings of Monet, the poetry of Rimbaud, the music of Debussy! It makes me proud to have some French blood in me!

These terms come mainly from music Historians, theorist, and music critics as a means of categorizing common traits found in music during a particular time. Most of these terms weren't codified till after world war II. We do this as a way of tracing when things started changing and why composers around the time of Mozart sound similar but dont sound anything like the composers around the time of Brahms. 

Saul Dzorelashvili said:

I mean the whole idea of trying to put music into words is kinda strange for me...

Funny story about Gershwin and Ravel. They were friends and communicated often. In one correspondence, Gershwin during the height of his popularity expressed to Ravel that he would like to take lessons on orchestration, where Ravel replied that he would like to take lessons from Gershwin. 

Just an interesting bit of useless trivia for y'all. 

Saul Dzorelashvili said:

Yes and Gershwin was also popular in france,,,

Oui, le mouvement français d'impressionisme commencé par l'art et alors transformé de là à la musique, les champions étaient Debussy et Ravel, qui étaient 'Monet' comme des compositeurs. Harmonies non raffinées, troubles, riches et exotiques, sorte d'une écoute facile de style européen ou amour du jazz… I personnellement le style, son très beau

You can do the same from here:

http://translation.babylon.com/english/to-french/

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