Debussy – Préludes – Music | History
Claude Debussy’s Préludes are 24 pieces for solo piano, divided into two books of 12 preludes each. Unlike some notable collections of preludes from prior times, such as Chopin’s Op. 28, or the preludes from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Debussy’s do not follow a strict pattern of key signatures.
Each book was written in a matter of months, at an unusually fast pace for Debussy. Book I was written between December 1909 and February 1910, and Book II between the last months of 1912 and early April 1913.
The titles of the preludes are highly significant, both in terms of their descriptive quality and in the way they were placed in the written score. The titles are written at the end of each work, allowing the performer to experience each individual sound world without being influenced by Debussy’s titles beforehand.
At least one of the titles is poetically vague: the exact meaning of Voiles, the title of the second prelude of the first book, is impossible to determine for certain, since plural nouns do not distinguish genders as the singular forms may do (in French, voiles can mean either “veils” or “sails”).
The title of the fourth prelude «Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir» represents a citation from Charles Baudelaire’s poem Harmonie du soir from his volume of poems Les Fleurs du mal.