The Little Nigar

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The Little Nigar
Cake Walk
Piano music by Claude Debussy
Debussy 1893.jpg
Debussy at the piano in 1893
Other name The Little Negro / Le petit nègre
Key C major
  • CD 122
  • L. 114
Composed 1909 (1909)?
  • 1909
  • c. 1934

The Little Nigar (CD 122, L. 114) is the original title by composer Claude Debussy for a short piece for piano, composed in 1909 for a piano method, and published the same year. It was later also published as a single piece, titled The Little Negro and Le petit nègre.


Debussy composed The Little Nigar (giving the noun this spelling)[1] in 1909[2] on a commission from Théodore Lack, for his piano method Méthode de Piano.[3][4] The subtitle describes it as a cakewalk.[3] It is reminiscent of Golliwogg's Cakewalk from his Children's Corner, a piano suite that he had composed a year earlier. In both pieces, rhythmic outer sections frame a melodic middle section. In Golliwogg's Cakewalk, the middle section satirically quotes the beginning of Tristan und Isolde by Wagner, a composer who had influenced Debussy when he was young, but from whose late romantic style Debussy later distanced himself.[5]

Debussy regularly sought exotic influences. In The Little Nigar, he alluded to banjo chords and drums,[6] influenced by American minstrel shows.[4] The piece, marked allegro, begins with a first theme presenting "jazzy" syncopes in 2/4 time, in the then popular ragtime style.[7] It is followed by a lyrical passage, marked espressivo and pianissimo (very softly), which leads to a return of the first section. The first theme leans towards pentatonic, and is accompanied by a chromatic sequence of broken minor thirds.[8]

The Little Nigar was first published in 1909 by Éditions Alphonse Leduc in Paris, as part of Lack's piano method, and again as a single piece in about 1934, now with an added repetition and titled The Little Negro, with subtitle Le petit nègre.[3][2]

Debussy also used the main theme in his 1913 ballet for children La boîte à joujoux, where it characterises an English soldier.[6][5] Numerous transcriptions in various instrumentations were made of the piece. An arrangement for woodwinds was used[when?] for advertising the dog food Purina One.[9]



  1. ^ McKinley, Ann (1986). "Debussy and American Minstrelsy". The Black Perspective in Music. JSTOR. 14 (3): 249. doi:10.2307/1215065. ISSN 0090-7790.
  2. ^ a b "The little Nigar". Centre de documentation Claude Debussy. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Heinemann, Ernst-Günter. "Postface" (PDF). Henle. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  4. ^ a b Scheytt, Jochen (2017). "Le petit nègre". Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  5. ^ a b Smith, Lindy (2008). "Out of Africa: The Cakewalk in Twentieth-Century / French Concert Music". Nota Bene: Canadian Undergraduate Journal of Musicology. 1 (1): 75–80. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  6. ^ a b Andres, Robert (2005). "An introduction to the solo piano music of Debussy and Ravel". BBC. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  7. ^ "The little Negro". Henle. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  8. ^ Eichmann, Andreas, ed. (2014). Kurt Weill und Frankreich (in German). Waxmann Verlag. p. 46. ISBN 978-3-83-098077-3.
  9. ^ Brown, Matthew (2012). Debussy Redux: The Impact of His Music on Popular Culture. Indiana University Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-25-335716-8.

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