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Claude Debussy - biography and analysis of Golliwogs Cake Walk

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- Music Extension Assignment - - Claude Debussy - Claude Debussy was born in Paris on 22 August 1862, and died a very unfortunate death in Paris from cancer, on 25 August 1918. He began learning the piano when he was seven years old from an elderly Italian, paid for by his aunt. From age nine he studied with a student of Chopin. Debussy's talents soon became obvious, and he moved on to be taught by some of France's best piano teachers. At eleven years of age, he entered the Paris Conservatoire. During his twelve years at the Paris Conservatoire, beginning in 1872, he studied composition with Ernest Guiraud, harmony with Emile Durand, piano with Antoine-Francois Marmontel, organ with Cesar Franck, and solfeggio with Albert Lavignac, as well as other significant figures of the time. From the beginning, though extremely talented, Debussy was also argumentative and experimental. He challenged the Academy, which was very inflexible in it's teaching, preferring instead dissonances and intervals. From 1880 - 1882, he was employed by the patron of Tchaikovsky, 'Nadezhda von Meck', giving music lessons to her children. ...read more.


Debussy was not only one of the most important French composers, he also was one of the 20th century's most influential composers and his music influenced almost every major composer. As well as writing music for the piano, Debussy composed orchestral music, and music for the opera and ballet. His most well most known piano compositions include sets of "Images", "Preludes" and "Etudes", the "Suite Bergamesque" and finally, the "Children's Corner Suite ". The "Children Corner" is a suite for solo piano, completed in 1908. It is dedicated to Debussy's daughter Claude-Emma, known as "Chou Chou" - who was three years old at the time. The pieces were not intended to be played by children - rather they are meant to evoke the essence of childhood and fantasies if youth. In fact, they are quite difficult pieces. "Children's Corner Suite" was published by Durand in 1908, and was given its world premiere in Paris by Harold Bauer on December 18, 1908. A typical performance of the suite will last around 15 minutes. The "Golliwog's Cake Walk" is the final and most familiar piece from his "Children's Corner Suite"- (1906-1908). ...read more.


After a short introduction, pause and a 4-bar vamp, the main tune steps out in E flat, gives way to unisons, and then chords in G flat. Following this the characteristic pattern is played with dissonant seconds, then thirds and then repeated and then fades out. The B section is an almost flirtatious, lilting section. In the midst of a theme in G flat, the theme that begins at measure 61 is taken from the prelude to Wagner's Tristan and Isolde (marked with "intense feeling") It is accompanied by light grace note chords and syncopated harmonics. The general effect is one of a somewhat silly singer taking over the dance floor to romance his love, with twittering laughter (or a musical chuckle) in the background. The Tristan theme is repeated three times. As in jazz, ragtime's successor, it is hard to play the Golliwog's Cake-Walk incorrectly, as long as you hit the correct notes. It works in a variety of tempos and dynamics so long as the pianist is having fun playing it. This piece although, not characteristic of Debussy's style, is a delightful and humorous work, and showcases his ability to create unique contrasts and tone, while allowing the individual pianist to add his/her personal touch. ...read more.

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