Criteria: personal taste / experience, popularity, originality.

What is impressionism?
Impressionism was a movement in classical music which occurred during the transition from romanticism to modernism. It was in part a reaction to the intense, drawn-out pieces of the romantic era. It was also a period of heavy experimentation with minor keys and dissonance. Impressionist pieces are relatively short, and usually are meant to represent a specific scene (such as "the old castle", "the swan", "the tempest", etc).

1. Children's Corner
by Claude Debussy
Children's Corner is my favorite album of impressionist music. It perfectly conveys the simple joys and amusements of childhood. All of the pieces have interesting uses of dissonance, diminished chords, and whimsical ornamentation. The most famous is probably "Golliwog's Cakewalk", which is commonly heard at piano recitals. The first piece, "Doctor Gradus ad Parrssanum" is also aimed at poking fun at Gradus ad Parrssanum, the textbook on classical counterpoint.

2. Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)
by Mussorgsky, later orchestrated by Maurice Ravel and others
Pictures at an exhibition is a textbook example of impressionism. It is based on a Russian art exhibit given during Mussorgsky's time. It consists of ten pieces, and has a unique semi rondo type form, since it (randomly) alternates between a main theme, "The Promenade", and the pictures. The promenade is supposed to represent strolling through the art gallery. The Old Castle is my favorite piece, and probably the most well known. It is also one of the most relaxing pieces of piano music ever made. Other movements are, The Gnome, A Polish cart on enormous wheels, drawn by oxen, Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks, Two Jews: Rich and Poor, French women quarreling violently in the market, The Catacombs, etc.

3. Bergamasque Suite
by Claude Deubssy
Contains the famous "Claire de Lune" ("moonlight").

4. Six Gnossiennes
by Erik Satie

5. Trois Morceaux En Forme de Poire ("Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear")
by Erik Satie
Pure Satie. One of his most original works.

6. Trois Gymnopedies
by Erik Satie, later orchestrated by Debussy
Marked to be played as "Lent et Trieste", (slow and sad), Satie's most popular work. Also a contender for most relaxing piano music of all time.

7. Preludes
by Claude Debussy
Contains "Dance of the Dolphins" and some more abstract dissonant works.

8. La Mer (Three Symphonic Sketches)
by Claude Debussy
"The Sea" for piano and orchestra

9. Carnival of the Animals (The Zoological Fantasy)
by Camille Saint-Saëns
Carnival of the animals is a collection of delightfully short pieces for piano and orchestra. Probably the most famous song is "The Swan". "The Swan" captures the grace and relaxed composure of swans. The Aquarium piece is also very cool. Jokingly, there is also a piece called the "The Pianist".

10. Furniture Music
by Erik Satie
This is Satie's experimental background music for orchestra. It is not particularly great sounding but is important because it is essentially minimalism decades before its time. I have it ripped from vinyl if anyone is interested. I also have very rare electronic renditions. 

Quotes by Eric Satie:

"What I am"
Everyone will tell you I am not a musician. That is correct.
From the very beginning of my career I class myself a phonometrographer. My work is completely phonometrical. Take my Fils des Étoiles, or my Morceaux en forme de Poire, my En habit de Cheval or my Sarabandes - it is evident that musical ideas played no part whatsoever in their composition. Science is the dominating factor.
Besides, I enjoy measuring a sound much more than hearing it. With my phonometer in my hand, I work happily and with confidence.
What haven't I weighed or measured? I've done all Beethoven, all Verdi, etc. It's fascinating.
The first time I used a phonoscope, I examined a B flat of medium size. I can assure you that I have never seen anything so revolting. I called in my man to show it to him.
On my phono-scales a common or garden F sharp registered 93 kilos. It came out of a fat tenor whom I also weighed.
Do you know how to clean sounds? It's a filthy business. Stretching them out is cleaner; indexing them is a meticulous task and needs good eyesight. Here, we are in the realm of pyrophony.
To write my Pièces Froides, I used a caleidophone recorder. It took seven minutes. I called in my man to let him hear them.
I think I can say that phonology is superior to music. There's more variety in it. The financial return is greater, too. I owe my fortune to it.
At all events, with a motodynamophone, even a rather inexperienced phonometrologist can easily note down more sounds that the most skilled musician in the same time, using the same amount of effort. This is how I have been able to write so much.
And so the future lies with philophony.
-Erik Satie

          Conservatory Catechism

          1. Debussy alone shalt thou adore
          And copy most perfectly.

          2. Melodious never shalt thou be
          In deed nor in consent,

          3. From plan shalt thou always abstain
          More easily to compose

          4. With greatest care shalt thou violate
          The ancient rudimentary rules

          5. Parallel fifths shalt thou create
          And octaves in like style

          6. Never ever shalt thou resolve
          Dissonance of any kind

          7. No piece shalt thou ever end
          With any consonant chord,

          8. Ninths shalt thou accumulate
          Without the least discernment

          9. Perfect harmony shalt thou not desire
          Except in marriage alone.

          Ad gloriam tuam

          - Eric Satie (attrib.)

          "Before I compose a piece, I walk around it several times, accompanied by myself" - Eric Satie </div>

          Note: Erik (sometimes spelled "Eric") Satie was an eclectic musician who was a contemporary of Debussy. He was rejected in his own time, and lived a bohemian life; however by influencing Debussy, John Cage, and others he is certainly one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, even though he rarely gets much credit for it.


          Last Modified: 09-01-08
          © Dan Elton