Nocturnes (L. 91), sometimes Trois Nocturnes or Three Nocturnes, is an orchestral composition in three movements by the French composer Claude Debussy. It was completed on 15 December 1899.
Performed by the Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra (Reinhold Behringer) with digital samples.
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The three movements are:
- Nuages ("Clouds") Modéré – Un peu animé – Tempo I – Plus lent – Encore plus lent.
- Fêtes ("Festivals") Animé et très rythmé – Un peu plus animé – Modéré (mais toujours très rythmé) – Tempo I – De plus en plus sonore et en serrant le mouvement – Même Mouvement.
- Sirènes ("Sirens") Modérément animé – Un peu plus lent – En animant, surtout dans l’expression – Revenir progressivement au Tempo I – En augmentant peu à peu – Tempo I – Plus lent et en retenant jusqu’à la fin.
Debussy wrote an "introductory note" to Nocturnes as follows:
- "The title Nocturnes is to be interpreted here in a general and, more particularly, in a decorative sense. Therefore, it is not meant to designate the usual form of the Nocturne, but rather all the various impressions and the special effects of light that the word suggests. 'Nuages' renders the immutable aspect of the sky and the slow, solemn motion of the clouds, fading away in grey tones lightly tinged with white. 'Fêtes' gives us the vibrating, dancing rhythm of the atmosphere with sudden flashes of light. There is also the episode of the procession (a dazzling fantastic vision), which passes through the festive scene and becomes merged in it. But the background remains resistantly the same: the festival with its blending of music and luminous dust participating in the cosmic rhythm. 'Sirènes' depicts the sea and its countless rhythms and presently, amongst the waves silvered by the moonlight, is heard the mysterious song of the Sirens as they laugh and pass on."
Nuages and Fêtes were premiered by Camille Chevillard with the Lamoureux Orchestra on 9 December 1900 in Paris. The complete suite was first heard under the same forces on 27 October 1901. The initial performances met with a cool response from critics and the public, but today these are considered some of Debussy's most accessible and popular works, admired for their beauty. The music lasts for about 25 minutes.
It is scored for three flutes (the third doubling piccolo), two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets in B-flat, three bassoons, four horns in F, three trumpets in F, three trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, snare drum, two harps, wordless female chorus, and strings.
- The complete work has been transcribed for two pianos by Maurice Ravel.
- Fêtes has been arranged for solo piano by the English pianist Leonard Borwick, and the arrangement has been recorded by Emil Gilels, among others.
- Fêtes has also been transcribed for large symphonic wind ensemble by Merlin Patterson (2007).