Claude Debussy is considered an Impressionist composer, even
though he didn't like the term himself. Like the painters of the time, Debussy
used light, colour and texture to bring about fantastic sonorities and imagry.
Impressionism, which emphasised objectivity and the outside world, such as Nature,
was a big reaction the high drama and human-focus of German Romanticism. Debussy
saw himself as descending from the Baroque French harpsichord tradition, and
we can hear this clearly in the use of older forms, such as the prelude. Preludes
were normally free-form warm-up pieces where the player would try out the keyboard's
touch and tuning. Here Debussy uses the prelude as a story-telling device.
The Sunken Cathedral refers to the French legend of the Isle of Ys. It tells of an island kingdom that became cursed and sunk to the bottom of the sea. Once a year the island rises out of the sea, and people on land can hear the bells and organ of the island's cathedral in the distance. Then the island is forced to submerge again.
Minstrels was inspired by a trip to the United States where Debussy heard a minstrel, or variety show. In this piece, different acts get on and off stage, with a lot of humour and contrast. In both of these pieces we hear the way Debussy redefined how the piano is played.