The impressionist period


Representative composers:  Debussy, Ravel, Faure

MELODY:  Varies from short dabs of sound to long, free-flowing lines; chromatic scale, whole-tone scale, and pentatonic scale often replace usual major and minor scales.

Chromatic scale:  the use of notes not part of the diatonic major or minor pattern

Whole-tone scale:  a six-note scale each pitch of which is a whole tone (two frets) away from the next.

Pentatonic scale:  a five-note scale found often in flok music and non-Western music.

Major scale:  a seven-note scale that ascends in the following order of whole and half steps: 1-1-1/2-1-1-1-1/2.  On guitar think of one or two frets on one string:    2-2-1-2-2-2-1.

Minor scale:  a seven-note scale that ascends in the following order of whole and half steps: 1-1/2-1-1-1/2-1-1 or on guitar 2-1-2-2-1-2-2.

HARMONY:   Primarily homophonic; triad is extended to form seventh chords and ninth chords; and these frequently move in parallel motion.

Homophonic: a texture in which all the voices, or lines, move to new pitches at roughly the same time; often referred to in contradistinction to polyphony.

            Triad:  a chord consisting of three pitches and two intervals of a third.

Seventh chords:  a chord spanning seven letter names and constructed by superimposing three thirds.

Ninth chords:  a chord spanning nine letters of the scale and constructed by superimposing four intervals of a third. 

Parallel motion:  a musical process in which all of the lines or parts move in the same direction, and at the same intervals, for a period of time; the opposite of counterpoint.   

RHYTHM:  Usually free and flexible with irregular accents, making it sometimes difficult to determine the meter; rhythmic ostinatos used to give feeling of stases rather than movement.

Ostinatos:  (Italian for “obstinate”) a musical figure, motive, melody, harmony, or rhythm that is repeated again and again.

COLOR:  More emphasis on woodwinds and brass and less on the violins as primary carriers of melody; more soloistic writing to show that the color of the instrument is as important as the melody line it plays.

TEXTURE:  Can vary from thin and airy to heavy and dense; sustaining pedal of the piano often used to create a wash of sound.          

FORM:  Traditional forms involving clear-cut repetitions rarely used; composers try to develop a form unique and particular to each new musical work.