The Two Arabesques
The Two Arabesques (Deux arabesques), L. 66, is a pair of arabesques composed for piano by Claude Debussy. They are two of Debussy’s earliest works, composed between the years 1888 and 1891, when he was still in his twenties.
Although quite an early work, the arabesques contain hints of Debussy’s developing musical style. The suite is one of the very early impressionistic pieces of music, following the French visual art form. Debussy seems to wander through modes and keys, and achieves evocative scenes through music. His view of a musical arabesque was a line curved in accordance with nature, and with his music he mirrored the celebrations of shapes in nature made by the Art Nouveau artists of the time. Of the arabesque in baroque music, he wrote:
“that was the age of the ‘wonderful arabesque,’ when music was subject to the laws of beauty inscribed in the movements of Nature herself.”
The two arabesques are given these tempo marks:
- Andantino con moto
- Allegretto scherzando
Arabesque No. 1. Andantino con moto
This arabesque is in the key of E major. This piece begins with parallelism of triads in first inversion, a composition technique very much used by Debussy and other Impressionists, tracing back to the tradition of fauxbourdon. It leads into a larger section beginning with a left hand arpeggio in E major and a descending right hand E major pentatonic progression.
The second quieter B section is in A major, which starts with a gesture (E-D-E-C♯), briefly passes through E major, returns to A major and ends with a bold pronouncement of the E-D-E-C♯ gesture, but transposed to the key of C major, played forte.
In the middle of the recapitulation of the A section, the music moves to a higher register and descends, followed by a large pentatonic scale ascending and descending, and resolving back to E major.
Arabesque No. 2. Allegretto scherzando
The second arabesque in G major is noticeably quicker and more lively in tempo. It opens with left hand chords and right hand trills. The pieces makes several transpositions and explores a lower register of the piano. Again notable is a hint of the pentatonic scale. The style more closely resembles some of Debussy’s later works. Like the closing bars of the first arabesque, this arabesque closes in a similar fashion.
In popular culture
Arabesque No. 1 was the theme music to PBS’s show Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer. The version used is an electronic rendition by Isao Tomita, from the album Snowflakes are Dancing. This version is also played thematically during the opening and end credits of the Spanish TVE series Planeta imaginario.
Arabesque No. 1 is appropriated on R&B/Soul singer Alicia Keys track “Like the Sea”, from her 4th studio album “The Element of Freedom”.
It is also used in the 2009 third season of British television show, Skins. It is used in JJ’s episode, along with other Debussy pieces such as “Golliwogg’s Cakewalk” and “Clair de lune”. The impressionist music reflects JJ’s inner thoughts and emotional personality.
Master marching band composer and arranger Key Poulan arranged the second arabesque for marching band in the show, “Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds.'”
In Final Fantasy V, playing all of the pianos found throughout the game allows the character to unlock and play a small excerpt from Deux arabesques every time he plays the piano.
- 2 Arabesques: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project