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Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune


Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (L. 86), known in English as Prelude
to the Afternoon of a Faun, is a symphonic poem for orchestra by Claude Prélude à l'après-midi d'un
Debussy, approximately 10 minutes in duration. It was composed in 1894 and faune
first performed in Paris on 22 December 1894, conducted by Gustave Symphonic poem by Claude
Doret.[1][2] The flute solo was played by Georges Barrère. Debussy

The composition was inspired by the poem L'après-midi d'un faune by


Stéphane Mallarmé. It is one of Debussy's most famous works and is
considered a turning point in the history of music. Pierre Boulez considered
the score to be the beginning of modern music, observing that "the flute of the
faun brought new breath to the art of music."[3]

Debussy's work later provided the basis for the ballet Afternoon of a Faun
choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and a later version by Jerome Robbins.

Contents
Background
Composition
Ballet versions Claude Debussy in 1905
Literature English Prelude to the
Transcription Afternoon of a Faun

In popular culture Catalogue L. 86


Film Based on L'après-midi d'un
Lectures faune
Music by Stéphane Mallarmé
Television Scoring flute · orchestra
References Premiere
Sources Date 22 December 1894
External links Location Paris, France
Conductor Gustave Doret

Background Performers Georges Barrère


(flute)
About his composition Debussy wrote:

The music of this prelude is a very free illustration of Mallarmé's


beautiful poem. By no means does it claim to be a synthesis of it.
Rather there is a succession of scenes through which pass the
desires and dreams of the faun in the heat of the afternoon. Then,
tired of pursuing the timorous flight of nymphs and naiads, he
succumbs to intoxicating sleep, in which he can finally realize his Performed by Natalia Ensemble,
dreams of possession in universal Nature.[4] 2014

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Paul Valéry reported that Mallarmé himself was unhappy with his poem being used as the basis for music:

He believed that his own music was sufficient, and that even with the best intentions in the world, it
was a veritable crime as far as poetry was concerned to juxtapose poetry and music, even if it were the
finest music there is.[5]

However, after attending the premiere performance at Debussy's invitation, Mallarmé wrote to Debussy: "I have
just come out of the concert, deeply moved. The marvel! Your illustration of the Afternoon of a Faun, which
presents no dissonance with my text, but goes much further, really, into nostalgia and into light, with finesse, with
sensuality, with richness. I press your hand admiringly, Debussy. Yours, Mallarmé."[6][7]

Composition
The work is scored for three flutes, two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets in A
and B ♭ , two bassoons, four horns, two harps, two crotales and strings. In
standard notation: 3 3[1.2.Eh] 2 2 – 4 0 0 0 – 1perc[crot] – 2hp – str (10').

Although it is tempting to call this piece a tone poem, there is very little
musical literalism in the piece; instead, the slow and mediated melody and
layered orchestration as a whole evoke the eroticism of Mallarmé's poem.

[This prelude] was [Debussy's] musical response to the poem of


Stephane Mallarmé (1842–1898), in which a faun playing his pan-
pipes alone in the woods becomes aroused by passing nymphs and
naiads, pursues them unsuccessfully, then wearily abandons
himself to a sleep filled with visions. Though called a "prelude,"
the work is nevertheless complete – an evocation of the feelings of
the poem as a whole.[8]
Illustration by Léon Bakst for the
Debussy had intended to compose a second and third movement, an Interlude ballet, Afternoon of a Faun, after
and Paraphrase finale, respectively, but he decided to concentrate all of his Debussy's music
musical ideas into one movement.[9]

The Prélude at first listening seems improvisational and almost free-form; however, closer observation will
demonstrate that the piece consists of a complex organization of musical cells, motifs carefully developed and
traded between members of the orchestra. A close analysis of the piece reveals a high amount of consciousness of
composition on Debussy's part.

The main musical themes are introduced by woodwinds, with delicate but harmonically advanced underpinnings
of muted horns, strings and harp. Recurring tools in Debussy's compositional arsenal make appearances in this
piece: extended whole-tone scale runs, harmonic fluidity without lengthy modulations between central keys, and
tritones in both melody and harmony. The opening flute solo consists of a semitone descent to a tritone below the
original pitch, and the subsequent ascent. The development of the slow main theme transitions smoothly between
9 6 12
8, 8, and 8 meters. Debussy enacts voicings and shading in his orchestration to a high degree, allowing the main
melodic cell to move from solo flute to oboe, back to solo flute, then two unison flutes (yielding a completely
different atmosphere to the melody), then clarinet, etc. Even the accompaniment explores alternate voicings: the
flute duo's crescendo during their melodic cells accompany legato strings with violas carrying the soprano part
over alto violins (the tone of a viola in its upper register being especially pronounced).

Main theme

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0:00

Ambiguous chord progression

0:00

Theme

0:00

Theme – similar to the main theme in chromaticism and contour. Uses a whole tone scale in m. 32.

0:00

Theme – similar contour to the main theme.

0:00

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Secondary theme

0:00

Theme – new melodic idea created by combining fragments of two previous melodies.

0:00

Theme – related to main theme.

0:00

Final chromatic harmonization of the main theme

0:00

The composition totals 110 bars. If one counts the incomplete lines of verse as one, Mallarmé's text likewise adds
up to 110 lines. The second section in D-flat starts at bar 55, exactly halfway through the work.

Ballet versions
In 1912, the piece was made into a short ballet, with costumes and sets by painter Léon Bakst, which was
choreographed and performed by renowned dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. It proved to be highly controversial because
of the dancers' non-traditional movements and because of a moment in which the faun appears to masturbate.

In 1958, a ballet version by Jerome Robbins was made, which has been frequently performed by many companies.

Literature
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In Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain it is implied that protagonist Hans Castorp listened to Debussy's piece
on a gramophone. In the book, the Prélude is one of his favorite recordings, and leads him to daydream about a
faun playing pipes in an oneiric landscape.

Transcription
Claude Debussy himself rewrote the piece for performance on two pianos in 1895.

Other transcriptions include: the arrangement of Maurice Ravel for piano four hands, the flute and piano version
of Gustave Samazeuilh, the arrangement for Pierrot ensemble (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) by Tim
Mulleman, a transcription for flute, clarinet and piano by Michael Webster, and an arrangement for the
instruments of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro (flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet) with an additional double
bass, by Graeme Steele Johnson.

Benno Sachs, a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg, reorchestrated the work for a chamber ensemble which included a
piano and a harmonium, for Schoenberg's Society for Private Musical Performances, which took place on 27
October 1920.

In popular culture

Film
The theme features prominently in the film Portrait of Jennie (1949), and is used as a musical motif for the
ethereal heroine played by Jennifer Jones.
Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is the first animated segment in Italian director and animator Bruno
Bozzetto's film Allegro Non Troppo (1977). While retaining Debussy's music, the on-screen story instead
depicts an aging faun's vain attempts to recapture his youth.
A climactic scene from the film Passion (2013) finds the main character attending the ballet version, with a
memorable, several-minute-long split screen, with the ballet on one side and the movie action on the other
side.

Lectures
The work is analyzed at the end of the 4th segment of Leonard Bernstein's Norton lecture The Unanswered
Question (1973). Bernstein corroborates the earlier statement that the piece, with its extensive use of the tri-
tone interval and whole-tone scale, stretches the limits of tonality, thus setting up the atonal works of the 20th
century to come.[10]

Music
It was rearranged and recorded by jazz musician Eumir Deodato for his album Prelude (1973).
A synthesiser arrangement was performed by Isao Tomita on his album Firebird (1975).

Television
A production music version (arranged by Charlotte Georg) was featured in The Ren & Stimpy Show episode,
"Powdered Toast Man".

References

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1. "Pierre Meylan and Chris Walton. "Doret, Gustave." " (http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/gro


ve/music/08029). Oxford. Retrieved 2009-05-25.
2. Fanning, Neil Cardew (2005). All music guide to classical music: the definitive guide to classical music. New
York: Hal Leonard. p. 351.
3. Boulez, Pierre (1958), "Entries for a Musical Encyclopaedia: Claude Debussy", Stocktakings from an
Apprenticeship, Oxford: Oxford University Press (published 1991), pp. 259–277, ISBN 0-19-311210-8
4. Original French: "La musique de ce prélude est une illustration très libre du beau poème de Mallarmé; elle ne
prétend pas en être une synthèse. Il s'agit plutôt de fonds successifs sur lesquels se meuvent les désirs et les
rêves du faune dans la chaleur de cet après-midi. Enfin, las de poursuivre les nymphes et les naïades
apeurées dans leur fuite, il s'abandonne à un sommeil enivrant, riche de songes enfin réalisés, de pleine
possession dans l'universelle nature." Quoted in "Les poètes symbolistes et la musique: de Verlaine à Blok" (h
ttp://mediatheque.ircam.fr/hotes/snm/ITPR19DESG.html) by Hélène Desgraupes.
5. Valéry, Paul (1933), "Stephane Mallarmé", Leonardo Poe Mallarmé, trans. James R. Lawler, London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul (published 1972), p. 263, ISBN 0-7100-7148-5
6. Dumesnil, Maurice (1940), "Claude-Achille, Young Musician", Claude Debussy, Master of Dreams, Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood Press, Publishers (published 1979), p. 181, ISBN 0-313-20775-5
7. Lloyd, Rosemary (2005), Mallarmé: The Poet and His Circle (https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=rsXutQMkI
xoC&pg=PA154&dq=%22Your+illustration+of+the+Afternoon+of+a+Faun%22&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=o
nepage&q=%22Your%20illustration%20of%20the%20Afternoon%20of%20a%20Faun%22&f=false), Cornell
University Press, p. 154, ISBN 9780801489938
8. Burkhart, Charles. 2004. Anthology for Musical Analysis, Sixth Edition. p. 402.
9. "Debussy - Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" (https://www.classicfm.com/composers/debussy/music/prelude-
apres-midi-dun-faune/). Classic FM. Retrieved 2019-03-19.
10. cagin (8 April 2011). "The Unanswered Question 1973 4 The Delights & Dangers of Ambiguity Bernstein
Norton" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwXO3I8ASSg) – via YouTube.

Sources
Hendrik Lücke: "Mallarmé – Debussy. Eine vergleichende Studie zur Kunstanschauung am Beispiel von
L'Après-midi d'un Faune". (Studien zur Musikwissenschaft, vol. 4). Dr. Kovac, Hamburg 2005, ISBN 3-8300-
1685-9.

External links
Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (http://patachonf.free.fr/musique/debussy/partition/p01.htm), score
Free recording (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cuo/audio.html) by the Columbia University Orchestra
Program notes (https://web.archive.org/web/20060923185645/http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/index.c
fm?fuseaction=composition&composition_id=2466)

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