Impressionism in Music - from Dawn to Dusk
February 23rd - 28th 2014
Impressionism in music is quite loosely defined, but refers to a movement in European classical music, mainly in France, that began in the late 19th century and continued into the middle of the 20th century. Like its precursor in the visual arts, Musical Impressionism focused on suggestion and atmosphere rather than strong emotion or the depiction of a story.
Musical Impressionism occurred as a reaction to the excesses of the Romantic Era. The dramatic use of the major and minor scale system gave way to dissonance and more uncommon scales such as the whole tone scale. Impressionist composers also tended to favour shorter forms such as the nocturne, arabesque and prelude, as opposed to long forms of music such as the symphony and concerto.
However, composers are generally not as accurately described by the term “Impressionism” as painters in the genre are. Debussy renounced it, saying, “I am trying to do ‘something different’ – in a way realities – what the imbeciles call ‘impressionism’ is a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by art critics.”
In this holiday we will try to get inside the ‘feel’ as well as the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the ‘Impressionism’ label in search of what it means in musical terms. What did Debussy and Ravel owe to the earlier composers of the Romantic Movement and to Impressionist painters such as Monet and Pissaro? How did Franz Liszt’s revolutionary ideas pave the way for Impressionism? What is ‘impressionistic’ about music by Dukas, Delius and Satie? What linked qualities do we hear in works by jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington, Bill Evans and Bix Beiderbecke?
As ever the holiday will conclude with a concert in Ambleside Church by the Solem Quartet, a String Quartet provided by the R.N.C.M., with the music they play forming an important part of our studies. Haydn’s Sun Quartets will form part of their concert.
Chris Howes is a music historian with many different faces in music – pianist, speaker, journalist, lecturer, occasional broadcaster, promoter, presenter and MC. His own musical interests are wide, encompassing classical, jazz, music for the cinema and for the theatre. He has an extensive knowledge of and passion for music’s historical and social environments, as well as the nuts and bolts of composition, orchestration and the magic and mystery of performance.
After a long career in secondary education, Chris has applied his musical passions widely, working with leading international musicians, as a visiting lecturer throughout the U.K. (including Cambridge University) and as organiser of music festival holidays.
All of this, combined with his humour and audience rapport, has given his talks, courses and music presentations widespread success over many years.