Clair de lune – Claude-Achille Debussy – Piano



Suite bergamasque

Excerpt from "Clair de lune", the third movement of the Suite bergamasque

The Suite bergamasque (French pronunciation: ​[sɥit bɛʁɡamask]) is one of the most famous piano suites by Claude Debussy. It was first composed by Debussy around 1890, at the age of 28, but was significantly revised just before its publication in 1905.[1]

The composer was loath to publish these relatively early piano compositions because they were not in his mature style, but in 1905 accepted the offer of a publisher who thought they would be successful given the fame Debussy had won in the intervening fifteen years.[1] While it is not known how much of the Suite was written in 1890 and how much was written in 1905, it is clear that Debussy changed the names of at least two of the pieces. Passepied had first been composed under the name "Pavane", while "Clair de lune" was originally titled "Promenade sentimentale". These names also come from Paul Verlaine's poems.[1] The final title of Suite bergamasque comes from Verlaine's poem "Clair de lune", which refers to bergamasks in its opening stanza:

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques


The Suite bergamasque consists of four movements:

  1. Prélude (Moderato, F major, 4
  2. Menuet (Andantino, A minor, 3
  3. Clair de lune (Andante très expressif, D major, 9
  4. Passepied (Allegretto ma non troppo, F minor, 4


1. Prélude

The first piece in the suite is entitled "Prélude", in the key of F major and marked tempo rubato. It is full of dynamic contrasts with a vigorous beginning and ending. It is a festive piece, which holds much of the Baroque style that is commonly found in preludes.

2. Menuet

The second part of the Suite bergamasque is the Menuet, in A minor. Its playful main theme contrasts with an alternatively mysterious and dramatic middle section. This piece is particularly original, as it does not conform to the particular style that most minuets share. Rather than being very airy and dainty, it shows much more raw comedy. Again, Debussy sets a very novel piece in the guise of an old dance style.

3. Clair de lune

The third and most famous movement of Suite bergamasque is "Clair de lune", in D major. Its name comes from Verlaine's poem "Clair de lune", which means "moonlight" in French. It is written in 9
meter, marked andante très expressif, and to be played mostly pianissimo. It is not to be confused with the two settings of the poem made by Debussy for voice and piano accompaniment.

4. Passepied

The final movement is Passepied in F minor, allegretto ma non troppo. A passepied is a type of dance which originated in Brittany. Debussy's "Passepied" is a happy, strangely medieval piece, which is surprisingly faster than its Baroque counterparts. Throughout most of its duration, the piece is played with staccato arpeggios in the left hand.


The Suite bergamasque has been orchestrated by many conductors, including André Caplet, Leopold Stokowski, and Lucien Cailliet.

"Clair de lune" in particular has been arranged for a wide variety of instrumental combinations. One such is Dimitri Tiomkin's arrangement for organ in the score for the 1956 film Giant.

"Clair de lune" was originally to be included as a fully orchestrated piece in the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia, but was not included in the final cut of the film due to running time issues, with the footage for its intended segment (featuring herons in the Florida Everglades at night) being recycled for the "Blue Bayou" segment of the later film Make Mine Music. However, the "Clair de lune" segment was later restored after a workprint of it was rediscovered in 1992, complete with original score by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and is included as a bonus feature in some later releases of Fantasia.

The 1953 ballet L'ange gris utilised orchestrations by André Caplet ("Clair de lune") and Gustave Cloëz (the other three pieces).[2]

"Passepied" has been arranged by the Punch Brothers for bluegrass instrumentation in their album The Phosphorescent Blues.


  1. ^ a b c Roberts, Paul (1996). Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy. Portland, Oregon.
  2. ^ "Suite bergamasque: "L'ange gris"". Worldcat. Retrieved 24 September 2016.

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