Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Duration: About 10 Minutes
Genre: Symphonic Poem
Time of Creation: 1892–1894
World Premiere: December 22, 1894 (Paris)
Table of Contents
Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune in 5 Sentences
Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune is a great example of the amalgamation of the arts in France at the end of the 19th century: the model for the piece was a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé, already 30 years old at the time of composition. Debussy, however, did not set this poem to music literally, but merely drew inspiration from its symbolist spirit. The result is one of the central compositions of musical Impressionism, marking a turning point in music history (see “Highlight 1” below). Mallarmé got to hear Debussy’s composition, as Debussy played several early versions for him on the piano.
4 Highlights from Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
Highlight 1: A flute solo that is significant in music history
Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune begins with a famous flute solo in which lies most of the music-historical significance of Debussy’s composition. The solo is so unusually constructed that many people (including famous musicians such as Pierre Boulez) see it as the birth of new music:
Highlight 2: Oops...
The rest of the orchestra tries to join in, and then – oops. There is a biiiig pause. Perhaps Debussy was really aware of what a music-historically significant beginning he had written. You have to digest it first:
Highlight 3: Fabric of timbres
A new attempt follows, and this time it works. Debussy develops step by step a dense fabric of different timbres:
Highlight 4: Spotlight oboe
In the course of the piece, pretty much every instrument is allowed a spotlight – at the end, for example, the oboe:
3 Questions and Answers about Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
Question 1: Has Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune been used in other contexts?
Yes. Ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky turned Mallarmé’s poem and Debussy’s composition into a famous ballet that is still frequently seen today.
Question 2: What did Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune mean for Debussy's career?
While Debussy’s composition was received rather moderately by critics, the public reacted positively. The 32-year-old Debussy achieved his artistic breakthrough with it.
Question 3: Why is the piece called "Prélude"?
The piece is called “Prélude” because Debussy originally intended to add two more movements to the work. However, this never happened, so that the Prélude stands alone as a work of art until today.
2 Recommended Recordings of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
Recording 1: London Symphony Orchestra, François-Xavier Roth (live, 2017)
A performance of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune stands or falls on the solo flute. Good thing the London Symphony Orchestra has an excellent principal flutist in Gareth Davies….
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