Formal studies of Debussy’s music have taken varied approaches, from Schenkerian analyses of Felix Salzer, to proportion studies of Roy Howat, to phrase/syntax studies in Richard Parks and Avo Somer, to phrasing and meter correspondences in the works of Christopher Hasty and Parks, to Marianne Wheeldon’s study of Debussy’s cyclical forms, to name a few.   

In my paper/presentation, I engage certain progressive facets of metric designs within selected vocal and piano works of Debussy, to show how Debussy crafts his metric landscapes in order to subtly create formal junctures and partitions that may not immediately or outwardly be heard, but are perceived nonetheless and are crucial in framing large-scale formal design. At times, such metric designs work in line with more traditional formal signifiers such as thematic design and tonality, and at other times, they can work more independently of those traditional signifiers.

Given the seamless nature of many of Debussy’s formal junctures, I show how Debussy employs, for example, changes in hypermetric orientation among broader sections in order to either offset sections that might otherwise be construed as continuous, or, contrastingly, to combine sections that might otherwise be perceived as offset. 

In certain melodies, Debussy uses fluctuating states of metric and hypermetric stability and instability in order to musically convey the texts’ meanings, at local, intra-phrase levels and at larger, formal-design levels.  For example, in “L’ombre des arbes” from Ariettes oubliées, the convention of two-bar introduction is impetus for offsetting two ongoing hypermetric constructs.  The state of despair in the protagonist at the conclusion of the work is set up by an alignment of that offset hypermeter into a calculated build in clear metric orientation that completely dissipates near the work’s end in most drastic fashion in order to mirror the narrative and text of Verlaine’s poem.

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