Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Turn of the 20th Century > Nocturnes (Debussy)
The three nocturnes comprising this suite were written in 1897-1899. They are not nocturnes in the ordinary meaning of the term, but impressions. Through they have a program, they do not describe objects, only fantasias upon objects. Perhaps they may be more accurately defined as dreams -- delicate, fleeting, elusive fancies connected in this case with the motion or rhythm of the objects. The three nocturnes are: "Clouds, and their floating across the sky; festivals, movement, rhythm dancing in the atmosphere; Sirens, the sea with its rhythm, and the song of the Sirens." It would be useless to describe this dream music in cold type. One of the best descriptions of it has been made by Bruneau, the composer :
Here with the aid of a magic orchestra, he has lent to clouds traversing the sombre sky the various forms created by his imagination; he has set to running and dancing the chimerical beings perceived by him in the silvery dust scintillating in the moonbeams; he has changed the white foam of the restless sea into tuneful Sirens.
Debussy himself explains the significance of these nocturnes as follows :
"Nuages." -- The unchanging aspect of the sky, and the slow, solemn movement of the clouds dissolving in gray tints lightly touched with white.
"Fêtes." - The restless dancing rhythm of the atmosphere interpersed with sudden flashes of light. There is also an incidental procession (a dazzling imaginary vision) passing through and through and mingling with the aerial revery; but the background of uninterrupted festival is persistent with its blending of music, and luminous dust participating in the universal rhythm of all things.