What is the course about?
Based on a lengthy poem by Stéphane Mallarmé, Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune was first performed in 1894 and was later famously – and scandalously – choreographed for the Ballets Russes by Vaslav Nijinsky. We will explore the poem, the way in which Debussy brings Mallarme’s faune to life in his orchestral piece, and the impact of this composition at its first performance and in the decades to come, as a harbinger of modern music.
What will we cover?
- The poetic source, and Debussy’s friendship with Mallarmé
- The importance of Symbolist poetry to Debussy’s composition
- The structure of the piece and some of its more unusual aspects
- Initial reception and the longer-term legacy of the piece in performance, and as an influence in twentieth-century music.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
- Outline the formal connection between the poem and the musical piece
- List the most innovative features of Debussy’s composition
- Summarise the reception history of the work.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
No prior knowledge of the subject is required. You do not need to read music to take this course (although we will look at music notation for time-to-time). You will be asked to do some reading in class and between sessions.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
Tutor presentation and explanation, including handouts, powerpoint slides or writing on a whiteboard
Guided listening and watching of audio and audio-visual examples
Class discussion and debate
Listening and reading outside class is encouraged and once enrolled further online resources will be recommended.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
Please bring a notebook and pen.
You may wish to buy some of the music or books recommended in class.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
To find out more about music history classes and to read our year-long selection of courses, please see the blog post Music history: your guide to the 2019/20 programme which lists our full programme of classes ordered by term, and by day of the week. You may then click on each title to read the full course outline.