Painting Through Sound: Debussy's Nocturnes

The American painter James McNeill Whistler painted a famous series of artworks called Nocturnes. The paintings captured different parts of London at night. Using simple color palettes, the paintings lack specific details; everything is loose, moody, and dark! Many people were shocked when the painting was first exhibited. One art critic wrote such a mean review of the artwork that Whistler later sued him and won! 

Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket, 1875

James McNeill Whistler; See it in the Detroit Institute of Arts

While many people in London were not fans of Whistler's works, Debussy found the paintings inspiring. He wrote a series of musical pieces, also called Nocturnes, that try to capture Whistler's simple and unrefined style through sound. 

Listen to one of Debussy's nocturnes below. As you listen, close your eyes. What colors do you hear? What details stand out? Which instruments do you notice? Do you think the music sounds like the painting?



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