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Julian Garrido-Figueroa

Dr. Jeffrey Holmes

Form and Analysis

13 November 2019

Premiere Rhapsodie

As the name implies, Debussy’s Premiere Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano is loosely

structured in a rhapsodic form. Merriam-Webster defines a rhapsody as “a musical composition

of irregular form having an improvisatory character.” The piece seems to be in a larger ABA

form overall, with each larger section broken down into smaller ones.

The first large A section of the piece can be broken down into a ternary A¹A²A¹ form.

The piece begins with an 8 bar introduction in which the piano establishes a pedal F and triplet

rhythmic motif. The clarinet’s introduction seems to be focusing on the notes F, Ab, and Bb as

its main material. The A¹ section begins in measure 9 as the piano takes the triplet motive from

the intro and repurposes it into a triplet rhythmic motor throughout the section. The first theme of

the piece enters in bar 11 in the clarinet. This theme 1 begins with an inversion of the

introductory material, becoming Bb, Ab, then F, and is then expanded through bar 20, with a

consistent swaying up and down contour. The key area of the section seems to be centered

around Db, mainly using the notes of a Db major 13 chord, seemingly in Db Mixolydian. Theme

1 ends on a held A natural as a sort of anticipation of the next section, A², which begins in

measure 21 and has modulated a half step up to D major. The clarinet begins theme 2 in measure

21, which lasts about four bars, and is much wider in range with large leaps, outlining the third,

fifth, and seventh of a D major 7th chord. It is related to the first theme as it retains the same up
and down contour, albeit wider. Measures 26 to 30 are a sort of transitionary section, with the

material in the clarinet in bars 26 and 28 returning later in the piece. Measure 31 then begins

with a quite interesting interruption of the A¹A²A¹ form of the A section and actually gives us a

sneak preview of the theme of the B¹ section. This B¹ theme played in the clarinet is

characterized by a triplet figure decorated with a few grace notes. This interruption doesn’t last

long and we return to A¹ in measure 39. Theme 1 returns in the clarinet in the same key an

octave higher, and then moves into a transition section in measure 45, using clarinet material

from the end of the A² transitionary section. Measure 51 of the transition section then begins to

use material from the B¹ section in the clarinet. Measure 53 then begins a shift away from triplet

rhythms into sixteenth rhythms in the clarinet, preparing us for the B section.

The larger B section of the piece begins in measure 58. B¹ begins in A major with the

third theme of the piece in the clarinet. Theme 3 is very similar to when it appeared earlier in

between A¹ and A², however, it is characterized by sixteenths instead of triplets, still decorated

by grace notes. This theme is expanded through measure 73, then measures 74 and 75 are a quick

transition as the clarinet holds onto a B. Measure 76 is then a return of A²! Just as some B

material interrupted the A section earlier, the B section here is also interrupted by A material. A²

here is a whole step higher than the first time we heard it, in E major. Measure 84 returns to B¹,

however, the grace notes are gone and the theme is split between the clarinet and the piano,

switching roles halfway through. Measures 92-95 are a quick transition in which the piano

establishes an Eb to DbEb sixteenth note motor which continues through the next section, B². B²

begins with the fourth theme of the piece in the clarinet. Theme 4 consists of a descending
chromatic scale interrupted by a couple of third leaps up which leap back down. This theme is

expanded through the rest of the section until the B section ends around measure 131.

Measure 132 is the beginning of the second large A section in the piece’s ABA form and

begins with A² and theme 2, however, this time it is accompanied by the same Eb to DbEb

sixteenth motor from the piano in B². This motor begins to shift into a triplet pattern in measure

140 as the clarinet picks up a theme very similar to theme 4 but with a triplet rhythm instead of

eighth notes. Measure 152 is the return of A¹ with theme 1 in the clarinet in its original key of Db

Mixolydian. This time, however, it is accompanied by a sixteenth note motor in the piano left

hand alternating between Db and Eb. The piece then transitions into the return of the A² section,

this time expanded as it descends towards the end. Then measure 163 is the beginning of a final

transition section that uses some material from theme 3 as well as from the first transition section

from A between A¹ and A². This sort of accelerates into a final B² section that acts as a sort of

coda as a wild mad dash to the end of the piece.

Premiere Rhapsodie is a Debussy piece with a somewhat free and flowing form that can

be loosely defined as ABA. If broken down into smaller sections, the piece is in the form:


Intro A¹ A² B¹ A¹ Trans B¹ Trans A² B¹ Trans B² A² A¹ A² Trans Coda (B²)