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What is the "Impressionist" era in Classical music?

The world of "Classical" music is comprised from several historical eras, with influence coming from international and globally ethnic sources. This is not unlike the term "bible," (the Greek root provides the Spanish with ''bibliotheca" for library) which refers to a collection of writings or books.

In the late 1800's some French painters and writers began their own movement in which they described their "impressions" of their subjects rather than try to portray them objectively and literally. Feelings about the subject matter and how it aroused those feelings became the pursuit of their art.

Composer Claude Debussy, who found great success in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was moved by the new art form and its concurrent Nationalism. After all, the French considered themselves elegant and suave, and not at all like the "vulgar" German composers, as they saw them. Debussy was perhaps more influenced by the sound of the French words than by their meanings. The French poet Stephane Mallarme regarded music as the art par excellence and chose his words equally for their effect when spoken and heard.

It was a natural extension, then, for the composer Debussy to translate the Impressionist ideals of the painters and writers into the sounds of music. His first orchestral masterwork in this new genre was his interpretation of Mallarme's poem, "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" (Prelude a l'apre-midi d'un faune). The title is highly suggestive and the music misty, surreal, nebulous, and evocative. This, too, became one of the first modern ballets based in the new art form in 1912, choreographed and danced by the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky.

Nearly all of Debussy's music thereafter was highly suggestive, expressive, and full of imagery for the mind. His subjects were sometimes quite real, such as a cathedral, the sea, or children. At other times his focus was purely conceptual. Much of his music was written for piano, and much of that later was arranged (orchestrated) by others for orchestra. Ironically, it is said that Debussy despised the very label that defined him.

Other composers of this broad era and genre—not all of whom were French—include in part Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Lili Boulanger, Isaac Albéniz, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, and Germaine Tailleferre.

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