Dissertation Index

Author: Oravitz, Michael

Title: Metric Patterning and its Effects on Phrasing and Form in Selected Debussy Preludes

Institution: Indiana University

Begun: January 2001

Completed: July 2005


This in-depth study of four Préludes, “Danseuses de Delphes,” “Le vent dans la plaine,” “Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir” and “Brouillards,” explores the symbiotic relationship between meter, phrasing, and form in Debussy's music. His metric practices involve a unique compositional practice of successive changes in metric orientation (what Harald Krebs has called “indirect metrical dissonance”) within brief spans of time. A work may open with a passage in triple meter that segues into one having a duple orientation only to abandon both orientations by moving to a state of metric ambiguity. This metric dynamism demands an analytical approach that recognizes that the brevity of these orientations does not exclude them from being metric. Interestingly, these fluctuating metric orientations occur in musical contexts that also allude to traditional conventions of phrasing and formal design. Thus, the analytical approach must strive to reflect both the innovative and the conventional.
My analytical approach takes Christopher Hasty's theory of metric projection as a point of departure. His theory of projection views meter as an ongoing process of reaction to rhythmic phenomena, and is, therefore, well suited for addressing Debussy’s metric practices. Notably in these Préludes, metric processes may suggest a subtle play or tension between an established mensural identity (for example, of a particular melodic pattern) and changing metric orientations (within successive phrase groups). My analytical descriptions track changing metric orientations on both metric and hypermetric levels, and illustrate how moments of metric fluctuation are interwoven with aspects of local metric perception, phrasing and form.

Keywords: Debussy, meter, form, phrasing, rhythm, Hasty




Prologue: Debussy as Modernist or Traditionalist? 1

Chapter 1: Preliminary Definition and Aspects of Irregular Meter
in Three Representative Composers:
Beethoven, Debussy and Stravinsky 10

Chapter 2: Analytical Challenges and Approaches to Meter in Debussy:
Precedents for My Analytical Techniques in the work of
Christopher Hasty 70

Chapter 3: Book I Prélude “Danseuses de Delphes”:
An Evocation of Dance and Antiquity through Meter 105

Chapter 4: Book I Prélude “Les sons et les parfums tournent dans
l’air du soir”: The Metric Transformation of an
Opening Gesture and its Effect on Form 155

Chapter 5: Metric/Hypermetric Structure and Form in Two Debussy
Préludes: “Le vent dans la plaine” and “Brouillards” 227

Postlude: The Interaction of Gesture, Accentual Identity and Meter 297

Bibliography 305



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