Debussy, Claude / orch. Caplet, André


Debussy, Claude / orch. Caplet, André

Pagodes for orchestra

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Claude Debussy – Pagodes for orchestra

(b. Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 22 August 1862 – d. Paris, 25 March 1918)

orchestrated by André Caplet

(b. Le Havre, 23. November 1878 – d. Neuilly-sur-Seine, 2. April 1925)


In 1889 Debussy attended the Exposition Universelle, a world fair held in Paris which attracted millions of visitors, and whose lasting monument was the Eiffel Tower. Debussy was particularly pleased to see and hear a Javanese gamelan, music from a rich tradition which was quite different from that of Western music. Gamelan uses largely percussion instruments, both pitched and unpitched, and the latter have some similarities to hammer instruments such as the glockenspiel and marimba which were subsequently incorporated into Western music. It also uses a wide range of gongs. The rhythms may be quite simple, and the melodies may be pentatonic, though there are other possibilities.

Debussy was one of the first European composers to be impressed and fascinated by gamelan, but others followed him, and you can hear this influence in Messiaen, Britten and more recent composers such as the American minimalists Philip Glass and Steve Reich.

One of the first of Debussy’s works to show the influence of gamelan was Pagodes, the first in the suite titled Estampes, composed in 1903. Pagodas are the tiered towers common across the Far East, usually with a religious significance, though it seems that Debussy was simply thinking of their decorative effect. In it we find pentatonic melodies, rhythmic ostinati, deep gong effects and filigree ornamentation, all suggesting the influence of gamelan, while incorporating them into a rondo-like form which is readily comprehensible within a European idiom. Although there are a couple of climaxes, the piece is mostly quiet, gentle and evocative, with a good deal of use of the sustaining pedal on the piano to maintain the harmonies. …


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Score Data

Score Number



Repertoire Explorer






210 x 297 mm



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