A Breakdown of Debussy's Suite Bergamasque

Claude Debussy
Claude Debussy, the famous composer. Henri Manuel /Hulton Archive/ Getty Images


Debussy’s “Suite bergamasqe” (made of four movements) is one of his most fascinating works for piano, not only for its rich, impressionistic qualities but also for its somewhat mysterious creation. It’s believed that Debussy began composing the “Suite bergamasque” in 1890, while he was still studying music. However, in 1905 he revised the works and published them under the title “Suite bergamasque.” It is unknown how much of the work was completed in 1890 and/or 1905.

The Movements of Suite Bergamasque

1: Prelude
Throughout the first movement, Debussy evokes a feeling an improvisation (a sound Debussy meticulously sought after while composing his work). Opening triumphantly, its playful harmonies dance along flowing lines until it finally pushes toward a climactic end similar to the opening bars.

2: Menuet
The menuet is unlike a Haydn or Mozart minuet and trio; its dance-like structure is more reminiscent of the Baroque style. Yet, its harmonies remain true to Debussy’s impressionistic sound.

3: Clair de lune
The most famous of the movements, “Clair de lune” or “Moonlight” has a mysterious uniqueness. It's sublime melody, rivers of rolling notes, colorful harmonies, and intriguing dynamic phrases are, perhaps, Debussy’s interpretation of moonlight filtered through the leaves of a tree. It’s a masterpiece unto itself.

4: Passepied
The exciting final movement to the “Suite Bergamasque,” with staccato in the left hand relatively throughout the movement’s entirety, is one of the most difficult to play. It's ​sharp contrast between the staccato in the left hand, with flowing themes in the right hand, paints a marvelous, complex sound; a perfect ending to a beautiful suite.