Essay on Claude Debussy And Richard Strauss Analysis

The music of Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss demonstrates the movement away from the conventional tonal system through the use of extended tonality to shape their distinctive musical styles. The development of Debussy’s departure from nineteenth-century formal models is demonstrated in Prelude a lapres midi dun Faune (Brown 131). Strauss establishes his mastery over the synthesis of chromatic tonality and motivic manipulation in his opera, Salome.

After their defeat to Germany in the Franco-Prussian war, France began to seek independence from the imposing German canon of music (Tyre 173). Dance music led to the refined taste and restraint that permeated French modernist styles, as composers were driven by a desire to recrate the beauty…

He amplifies traditional senses of dissonances to create a sound world approaching atonality or polytonality. This is emphasized through reinforcing a traditional diminished seventh chord with embellishing chord tones with trills, building additional triads from existing chord tones and building melodic material from intervals present in the diminished seventh (see Ex. 6).

Ex. 6. Strauss, Salome, Scene 4 “Dance of the Seven Veils”

Within the diminished seventh chord is the interval of a tritone, the basis of Debussy’s Prelude a lapres midi dun Faune (Bernstein 243). However, Strauss manipulates the tritone to create an intense sense of dissonance rather than for colouristic purposes. Although he manipulates dissonances, Strauss adheres to fairly traditional harmonies to render the process of resolution straightforward, allowing jarring juxtaposition of extreme dissonance and total, pure consonance.

Strauss makes use of chromatic surrounding as a structure to link the tonic of C sharp minor to its chromatic neighbours (Boulay 7). This is seen in quickly emphasized triads where a C sharp major triad is followed by D minor and C minor triads (see Ex. 7).

Ex. 7. Strauss, Salome, 5 bars after r.n….

Sie sind wie die schwarzen Hohlen, wo die Drachen hausen!”. The chord (E flat, G, B flat and D flat), reached through chromatic voice leading, is an example of a pentachordal combination chord with the F sharp in the bass. It contains a combination of three notes from a G diminished chord and two notes from a F sharp diminished chord (see Ex. 9). The following chord shows a hexachordal sonority when the A is added (see Ex. 9). Further hexachordal sonority is created with the held C sharp, G and A sharp combined with B sharp, D sharp and F sharp (see Ex. 9). This chromatic tonality is used to create a specific sound to accompany Salome specifically. While this music is tonal in its large-scale organisation, the ambiguous tonal detours are in the same vein as Debussy’s manipulations of harmonic structure.

Ex. 9. Strauss, Salome, Scene 3 “Seine Augen sind vor allem das Schrecklichste. Sie sind wie die schwarzen Hohlen, wo die Drachen hausen!”

The investigation of Prelude a lapres midi dun Faune and Salome reveals the surface similarities in which Strauss and Debussy treat extended tonality. However, on a fundamental level, the use of non-functional tonality is very different in both works. Debussy’s impressionistic style of using harmonies for colouristic purposes counteracts the Strauss’ use of consonance to contrast the dissonances within his work. These…