The musical Arabesque or rather the principle of ornament is at the basis of all forms of art.

Claude Debussy

"To whichever of the applied arts any given building may belong, in creating it one has to pay particular attention to ensuring that it and its exterior aspect conform in every respect to its designated purpose and its natural form.  Nothing is legitimate that does not form an organism, or a link between the various organisms.  No ornament can be permitted that is not organically absorbed."
Was ich will, 1901

"I wish to replace the old symbolic elements, which have lost their effectiveness for us today, with a new, imperishable beauty… in which ornament has no life of its own but depends on the forms and lines of the object itself, from which it receives its proper organic place."’
Was ich will, 1901

"I see ornament in architecture as having a dual function. On the one hand it offers support to the construction and draws attention to the means it employs; on the other… it brings life into a uniformly illuminated space by the interplay of light and shade."
Kunstgewerbliche Laienpredigten, 1902

Henry van de Velde

The combining impressions on Art Nouveau concepts may have inspired Debussy to base his Arabesque composition from the designs found in, for example, Arabic art.  The movements and curved lines of the motives dissolve into purposeless lines, into ornaments (arabesques). This two-dimensional, ornamental means of portrayal has its counterpart in Asiatic art. 

The repetitive patterns in the picture is synonymous to the repetitive musical idea presented in the first few measures which is present throughout the piece.  I used an arabesque pattern in a pottery picture, quadruplicated it, and fit those four together by inverting and rotating the images so that they form one whole piece.

The different line designs indicate the different parts of the piece.  The flowing musical lines are like the curvy decorative designs.  The freedom of form (not to he mistaken for its dissolution) does not indicate a rhapsodic gliding-over from one bar to another or a loose improvisation on a couple of sounds or scraps of melody. To the contrary, everything is most carefully composed; every detail is minutely indicated. Like the intricacies of the arabesque designs in visual art, melodic form can still be seen or heard.

As reported by Maria Francesca Cuccu in her essay “La "musica sognata" di Claude Debussy”, innovative and essential element in the music of Debussy is the Arabesque, subtle combination of floral and geometric elements, which the composer himself called "divine." The flexible whip line of Arabesque also beloved by Baudelaire evoke the most spiritual design and the most ideal: it is "a figure that does not develop in a supreme way using the technique of narrative or representation, but stands out in the manner of the fresco ornamentation on a surface in motion, without describing, without concluding epilogue, in a happy ending, but assuming a purely instantaneous ".

Claude Debussy – Arabesque Number 1

Floral ornaments in Art Nouveau

Jankélévitch compares certain melodic motifs of Debussy with a botanical phenomenon, the geotropism, ie the influence of gravity orientation on leaves and roots. Then, we can talk of positive and negative geotropism, the one used to indicate attraction to a center of gravity, the other indicates the tend of the stems to grow away from the center of the earth. (The student applies the confrontation with this phenomenon is also the symbolic meaning of plants and floral motifs of Art Nouveau and the relationship with the flowing lines of women’s hair.)

 

Femmes avec les cheveux de Lins, in Art Nouveau vignettes

image image image

 

Claude Debussy – La fille aux cheveux de lin

Femmes avec les cheveux de Lins, in Art Nouveau vignettes

Debussy’s arabesques would follow the phenomenon: rising, creating a sense of rootlessness given by the superposition of perfect chords, each on a different key, which does not give continuity and a musical discourse of reason but merely to exist in space. In descent, Debussy arabesque symbolizes a feeling of fear and flight, drop or droop, especially sensual "vers cette inclinaison pudique vers le bas est une des marques les plus caractéristiques de la phrase debussyste" (11). Debussy believed in the magic power of Arabesque, symbol full of mystery and sensuality. The evidence for this oriental charm was the same that had aroused in him when he was able to hear the music of Bali and Java Indonesia. In these islands was practiced harmony set up two separate scales: <pelog> and <slendro>, both pentatonic, but the first (called female) has a major third, while the second (called the male) a minor third.

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