Clair de Lune

A post for Monday, the day of the moon (from Old English mōnandæg; mōna = moon and dæg = day). Or, to use the native language, French, of today’s composer, Claude Debussy (1862-1918), lundi (from Latin Lunae dies).

The Effect of Moonlight (also known as St. Valery Canal)Eugène-Louis Boudin (1891)
The Effect of Moonlight (also known as St. Valery Canal)
Eugène-Louis Boudin (1891)


Clair de Lune
(Moonlight) is the third, and best known, of the four movements of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque.  His inspiration was a poem of the same name by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), translated from the French here:

Your soul is as a moonlit landscape fair,
Peopled with maskers delicate and dim,
That play on lutes and dance and have an air
Of being sad in their fantastic trim.

The while they celebrate in minor strain
Triumphant love, effective enterprise,
They have an air of knowing all is vain,—
And through the quiet moonlight their songs rise,

The melancholy moonlight, sweet and lone,
That makes to dream the birds upon the tree,
And in their polished basins of white stone
The fountains tall to sob with ecstasy.

Many will recognize Clair de Lune because it’s been used in so many movies over the years; dissertations have even been written on its use in film.  Some might feel the piece has become a bit of a cliché, and yet the fact that it’s been so often tapped by filmmakers speaks to the mood it so effectively conveys.  For me, two stretches are especially gorgeous.  The first, from 1:05-1:20 starts with the left hand gently playing an E-flat octave in the piano’s lower register, immediately followed, in the higher register, by a series of shimmering octaves…I imagine the moonlight appearing from behind a cloud at this moment.  The second, from 1:49-2:13, is a beautiful, melodic line in the right hand over rolling, arpeggiated chords in the left hand. (The pianist is Boris Berman, a Professor at the Yale School of Music).

Claude_Debussy_AngledStroke
Claude Debussy

Take a listen and see what this piece conjures for you. Happy Moon Day.

3 comments

  • Sweetness and sorrow….love and loss. Not sure why these things go hand in hand sometimes, but this song makes me think about the ephemeral nature of life. And what a lovely poem I had never read before.

    Like

  • Ah, what an ethereal and hauntingly beautiful post to transform a humdrum Monday. A veritable wealth of visual, textual, and aural riches!

    Like

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