Suite bergamasque

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Excerpt from "Clair de lune", the third movement of the Suite bergamasque

Suite bergamasque (L. 75) (French pronunciation: ​[sɥit bɛʁɡamask]) is a piano suite by Claude Debussy, and one of the composer's most famous works for the instrument.[1] He began composing it around 1890, at the age of 28, but significantly revised it just before its 1905 publication.[2]

The composer was initially unwilling to use these relatively early piano compositions because they were not in his mature style, but in 1905 he accepted the offer of a publisher who thought they would be successful, given the fame Debussy had gained in the intervening fifteen years.[2] While it is not known how much of the Suite was written in 1890 and how much was written in 1905, it is clear that Debussy changed the names of at least two of the pieces. "Passepied" had first been composed under the title "Pavane", while "Clair de lune" was originally entitled "Promenade sentimentale". These names come from poems by Paul Verlaine.[2] The title of the third movement of Suite bergamasque is taken from Verlaine's poem "Clair de lune", which refers to bergamasks in the opening stanza:[2]

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Your soul is like a landscape fantasy,
Where masks and bergamasks, in charming wise,
Strum lutes and dance, just a bit sad to be
Hidden beneath their fanciful disguise.[3]


Suite bergamasque consists of four movements:[4]

  1. Prélude (Moderato tempo rubato, F major, 4
  2. Menuet (Andante, A minor, 3
  3. Clair de lune (Andante très expressif, D major, 9
  4. Passepied (Allegretto ma non troppo, F minor, 4


1. Prélude[edit]

The first piece in the suite, entitled Prélude, is in the key of F major and marked moderato tempo rubato.[4] Its legato phrases give it a smooth, flowing feel.[5]

2. Menuet[edit]

The second movement of Suite bergamasque is a Menuet in A minor.[4] This piece is particularly original, as it does not conform to the style shared by most minuets.[citation needed]

3. Clair de lune[edit]

The third and most famous[5] movement of Suite bergamasque is Clair de lune, in D major. It is written in 9
meter, marked andante très expressif.[4] Its title, which means "moonlight" in French, is taken from Verlaine's poem "Clair de lune".[2] It is not to be confused with the two settings of the poem composed by Debussy for voice and piano accompaniment.

4. Passepied[edit]

The final movement, entitled Passepied, is in F minor, marked allegretto ma non troppo.[4] A passepied is a type of dance that originated in Brittany. This movement is fast and light,[5] with the left hand playing staccato arpeggios throughout.[4]


Suite bergamasque has been orchestrated and arranged by many people, both for concert performance and for use in other media.

In particular, Clair de lune has been arranged for a wide variety of instrumental combinations, including notable orchestrations by André Caplet, Leopold Stokowski, and Lucien Cailliet.[6]

Clair de lune was originally intended to be included as a fully orchestrated piece in the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia. However, due to runtime issues, it was eventually not included in the final cut of the film.[7] Instead, the footage for its intended segment (featuring herons in the Florida Everglades at night) was recycled for the "Blue Bayou" segment of the subsequent film Make Mine Music.[8] However, the Clair de lune segment was later restored after a workprint of it was rediscovered in 1992, complete with an original score by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It is included as a bonus feature in some later releases of Fantasia.[citation needed]

The 1953 ballet L'ange gris used orchestrations of the Suite bergamasque by Caplet (Clair de lune) and Gustave Cloëz (the other three pieces).[9]

Passepied has been arranged by the Punch Brothers for bluegrass instrumentation in their album The Phosphorescent Blues.[10]


  1. ^ Guo, Shulin. A Study of Claude Debussy's Suite Bergamasque: Prelude, Menuet, Clair de Lune and Passepied. Diss. University of Kansas, 2019. Web. 19 May 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e Roberts, Paul (1996). Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy. Portland, Oregon.
  3. ^ "Excerpt, One Hundred and One Poems by Paul Verlaine, a bilingual edition, translated by Norman R. Shapiro (1998)". University of Chicago Press. Retrieved 2017-07-08.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Debussy, Claude (2007). Debussy: Favorite Piano Works. New York, NY: G. Schirmer. pp. 185–211. ISBN 978-1-4234-2741-4.
  5. ^ a b c "Suite bergamasque | work by Debussy". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-05-18.
  6. ^ Daniels, David (2005). Orchestral Music: A Handbook. Scarecrow Press. p. 108. ISBN 9780810856745.
  7. ^ "Lost Disney Sequence Shown at Hollywood Bowl 'Fantasia' Concert". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  8. ^ Ehrbar, Greg (2016-04-20). "Did You Know? Strike a Chord With 9 Notes From Make Mine Music". D23. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  9. ^ 'Suite bergamasque': 'L'ange gris'. OCLC 5327890.
  10. ^ "Punch Brothers: The Phosphorescent Blues". PopMatters. 2015-02-05. Retrieved 2020-05-03.

External links[edit]