The Classical Series, vol. 2: Impressionism

By: Claudia Siregar |

One of the more “modern” movements in classical music is impressionism, popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. Remotely related to the artistic movement impressionism (refer to Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s paintings for a solid idea on what impressionist art looks like), two composers were mainly responsible for the cultivation of the movement: Claude Debussy (who apparently didn’t like the idea of being called an impressionist composer despite of initially starting the movement with his unique musical style) and Maurice Ravel – a very few, indeed. But their works greatly impacted instrumental music for the years to come.

Impressionist music is characterised by the atmosphere it creates. It focuses on emotions, or moods, using tone colours (not weird for a movement associated with a Monet painting due to the uncanny parallels between impressionist art and impressionist music). These colours are represented by the changes in timbre that impressionist musicians focus on. Even though there’s lots of tone colour play, impressionist music is somewhat minimalistic in nature – no big orchestra, no quirky play with time signatures and different ways of playing different musical instruments, short duration of songs, which makes it so in-contrast with music from the Romantic period.

The themes in impressionist music are pretty specific as well, taking on more “dreamy” subjects such as water, dreams, and reverie – just like impressionist paintings. This is also represented by the fact that impressionist works are largely piano-based, with a dreamlike, smooth flow that rarely sounds too “robust”. If you’re particularly impressed by impressionist music (oops, just got to make that pun), the team has gathered a few impressionist tunes to impress you even more:

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