Impressionism in music

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Periods of
Western classical music
Medieval c. 500–1400
Renaissance c. 1400–1600
Common practice
Baroque c. 1600–1760
Classical c. 1730–1820
Romantic c. 1815–1910
Modern and contemporary
Modern c. 1890–1930
20th century 1901–2000
Contemporary c. 1975–present
21st century 2001–present

Impressionism in music is a vague term that is sometimes applied to various composers in Western classical music, mainly during the late 19th century and continuing into the beginning of the 20th century, whose music focuses on suggestion and atmosphere.[citation needed]

French critic Stéphane Mallarmé states that naming an object takes away three fourths of its power, "to suggest is to dream".[1] Claude Debussy found inspiration in Javanese music (especially gamelan)[citation needed]. Debussy later wrote to a friend, "Do you not remember the Javanese music, able to express every shade of meaning, … which makes our tonic and dominant seem like ghosts?"[2] He and Maurice Ravel were generally considered to be the two "great" impressionists. However, these days composers are generally not as accurately described by the term "Impressionism" as painters in the genre were.[citation needed] Debussy renounced it, saying: "I am trying to do 'something different' – in a way realities – what the imbeciles call 'impressionism' is a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by art critics."[3]

Ernest Fanelli was claimed to have innovated the style, though his works were unperformed before 1912.[4]

Other composers said to have been influenced by Impressionism include Isaac Albéniz, John Alden Carpenter, Frederick Delius, Paul Dukas, Manuel de Falla, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, and Ottorino Respighi.[5]


  1. ^ Kamien, Roger (1976). Music: An Appreciation. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0070332665. [page needed]
  2. ^ Roger Kamien, Music: An Appreciation, eighth edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004): 412. ISBN 0-07-284484-1.
  3. ^ Tsai, Shengdar. Impressionistic Influences in the Music of Claude Debussy. Accessed 22 July 2006.[self-published source?]
  4. ^ Adriano, Ernest Fanelli (1860-1917), Symphonic Pictures, Marco Polo, pp.1–4[full citation needed]
  5. ^ "Impressionism, in Music". The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed. ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved 2012-12-25.  (Archive copy from 3 April 2009).

Further reading[edit]

  • Machlis, Joseph, and Kristine Forney. The Enjoyment of Music, seventh edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995. ISBN 0-393-96643-7.
  • Palmer, Christopher. Impressionism in Music. London: Hutchinson; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973.
  • Pasler, Jann. "Impressionism". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001.
  • Thompson, Oscar. Debussy, Man and Artist. New York: Dodd, Mead & company, 1937.