Clair de lune

Clair de lune Sheet Music by Claude Debussy. Advanced-level piano piece, 6 pages.


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Product Description

Clair de lune sheet music by Claude Debussy.

One of the most popular compositions ever written for piano, Clair de lune is the third movement of the Suite Bergamasque. Debussy worked on this collection between 1890 and 1905. Originally called Promenade sentimentale, it was renamed Clair de lune, which is French for “moonlight.” The title of the suite, Bergamasque, comes from a Renaissance dance originating in northern Italy.  However, the names of both the suite and the third piece were inspired by the 1869 French poem “Clair de lune” by Paul Verlaine, and have no musical connection to the dance.  

This piece is in the key of D-flat major. It requires great sensitivity of tone, given that most of the piece is marked pianissimo or quieter. The opening section, Andante très expressif, is intimate and hesitant. The somewhat unusual meter, 9/8, is further complicated by syncopations and alternating duplets with the expected three eighth notes per beat. This creates a sense of rhythmic broadening in the middle of phrases, and contributes to the dreamlike character.  Next comes a tempo rubato passage with long phrases richly doubled in the low and high treble, all over a slowly rising bass line. After the harp-like conclusion, a third section, un poco mosso, steps up the tempo with a new melody over sweeping arpeggios in the left hand. Ultimately the opening section returns with further elaborations, followed by a coda based on the piece’s third episode.

The composition owes part of its appeal to Debussy’s effort at changing the motion-based function of Western harmony into something more coloristic and immersive. Instrumental timbre has been raised to the same importance as melody and rhythm, leading many scholars to characterize his music as Impressionist.  Debussy, however, sharply objected to the term, probably from its derogatory use by Paris Conservatory teachers in their assessment of his work. Yet despite being a harmonic rule-breaker, he won the school's coveted Prix de Rome in 1884. 

Though conceived for solo piano, the piece has been arranged for full orchestra by such conductors as Lucien Cailliet and Leopold Stokowski.  It was even considered for Walt Disney’s 1940 animated classic Fantasia.  You may also have caught excerpts of these versions in films like The Right Stuff (1983) and Ocean's Eleven (2001).  Provided here is the complete sheet music with finger numbers throughout. 6 pages.

If you're ready for this enduring favorite, you might try these other pieces as well:
Reverie by Claude Debussy
Footsteps in the Snow, from Preludes pour le piano, No. 6 by Claude Debussy
The Girl With the Flaxen Hair, from Preludes pour le piano, No. 8 by Claude Debussy
Murmurs of the Brook, from Les Beaux Jours, No. 7 by Marie Jaëll


How long did Debussy take to write Clair de lune?

Claude Debussy composed it in 1890; however, it was significantly revised before its eventual publication in 1905. The exact duration it took him to write the initial version is not well-documented, but it is clear that he spent several years revising and perfecting the piece before he was satisfied with the final result. This period of time can be considered a reflection of Debussy's meticulous dedication to his art.

Is Clair de lune homophonic?

This piece is characterized by a mixture of textures, but it is primarily homophonic. In homophonic texture, all the parts move rhythmically together, and there is a clear distinction between the melody line and the accompaniment. However, Debussy's use of rich harmonies, intricate voicings, and overlapping tonalities create a lush and layered texture, sometimes bordering on polyphonic.

Is Clair de lune harder than Fur Elise?

Yes, Clair de lune is considered more difficult to play than Für Elise by Ludwig van Beethoven, with its complex harmonies, intricate rhythms, and expressive performance demands. It requires a nuanced touch, control of tone, and the ability to bring out multiple layers of voicing. Debussy's Impressionist style, with its emphasis on atmosphere and texture, necessitates a more experienced musical understanding. 


Debussy Clair de lune Audio Sample