Estampes contains three movements:
- "Pagodes" ("Pagodas") – approx. 4-5 minutes.
- "La soirée dans Grenade" ("Evening in Granada") – approx. 5 1⁄2 minutes.
- "Jardins sous la pluie" ("Gardens in the Rain") – approx. 3 1⁄2 minutes.
"Pagodes" evokes images of East Asia, which Debussy first heard in the Paris World Conference Exhibition of 1889, and later again in 1900. It makes extensive use of pentatonic scales and mimics Indonesian traditional melodies by incorporating hints of Javanese gamelan percussion.
As this is an Impressionistic work, the goal is not overt expressiveness but instead an emphasis on the wash of color presented by the texture of the work. Debussy marks in the text that "Pagodes" should be played "presque sans nuance", or "almost without nuance". This rigidity of rhythm helps to reduce the natural inclination of pianists to add rubato and excessive expression. Note that rigidity of rhythm within measures does not mean rigidity of tempo in the work; the tempo gradually fluxes quicker and slower throughout the piece, which is also common in gamelan compositions.
II. "La soirée dans Grenade"
"La soirée dans Grenade" uses the Arabic scale and mimics guitar strumming to evoke images of Granada, Spain. At the time of its writing, Debussy's only personal experience with the country was a few hours spent in San Sebastián de los Reyes near Madrid. Despite this, the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla said of "La soirée": "There is not even one measure of this music borrowed from the Spanish folklore, and yet the entire composition in its most minute details, conveys admirably Spain".
III. "Jardins sous la pluie"
"Jardins sous la pluie" describes a garden in the Normandy town of Orbec during an extremely violent rainstorm. Throughout the piece, there are sections that evoke the sounds of the wind blowing, a thunderstorm raging, and raindrops dropping. It makes use of the French folk melodies "Nous n'irons plus aux bois" and "Dodo, l'enfant do". Chromatic, whole tone, major and minor scales are used in this movement.
- Hinson, Maurice. Preface to Estampes by Claude Debussy. Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 1993.
- Schmitz, Robert E. The Piano Works of Claude Debussy. New York: Duyell, Sloan and Pearce Publishers, 1950. pp 85-86.
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