"Between the Staves" - Adaptations of Debussy's Six épigraphes antiques and Creative Tasks of the Performer

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The Six épigraphes antiques represent a cross-section of Debussy's creative output that traces the composer's germ-seed from his original setting of the work in 1901 as incidental music to accompany the recitation of several poems, to the four-hand piano version of 1914, and its consequent reduction for solo piano. What can be gleaned by the methods of derivation from his original sketches to the final, mature works is an understanding of Debussy's use of musical metaphor and his connection to the poetry - the Chansons de Bilitis of Pierre Louÿs. Embedded literary procedures create a new musical expression of the ... continued below

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Astilla, Christopher December 2007.

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  • Astilla, Christopher

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The Six épigraphes antiques represent a cross-section of Debussy's creative output that traces the composer's germ-seed from his original setting of the work in 1901 as incidental music to accompany the recitation of several poems, to the four-hand piano version of 1914, and its consequent reduction for solo piano. What can be gleaned by the methods of derivation from his original sketches to the final, mature works is an understanding of Debussy's use of musical metaphor and his connection to the poetry - the Chansons de Bilitis of Pierre Louÿs. Embedded literary procedures create a new musical expression of the work whereby text and music become integrated. Rather than serving as accompaniment to the poems, the Épigraphes function as the primary vessel for the conveyance of these ancient scenes. Several of Debussy's hallmark symmetrical and structural moulds, such as the whole-tone, chromatic, octatonic, and mirroring techniques reflect the omnipresent symmetry of Classical Greece. Various other artistic creations emanated from the Épigraphes, most significantly the orchestration of Ernest Ansermet in 1939. A look at the techniques used by Ansermet for the augmentation of the piano work serves to extrapolate the multifarious layers relevant in performance. In order to facilitate the four-hand version for solo piano, Debussy used a variety of reductive methods. There are, however, means by which some of the extracted material might be restored to the solo version. Like the late work of many great masters, the Épigraphes are redolent of the tendency so many artists have near the end of their days - to revert back to the purest techniques of their language. The scoring of Debussy's Épigraphes is scaled back, compared to his Préludes (often consisting of three staves of notation), and incorporates leaner textures generated from lapidary motifs which transmit the antique realms evoked by the poetry of Louÿs.

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  • December 2007

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  • May 2, 2008, 3:10 p.m.

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  • Jan. 15, 2014, 2:26 p.m.

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Astilla, Christopher. "Between the Staves" - Adaptations of Debussy's Six épigraphes antiques and Creative Tasks of the Performer, dissertation, December 2007; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc5205/: accessed August 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .