Song of the Day: “Clair de lune” by Claude Debussy

I don’t know much about classical music, but I know I love it.

Saying “Clair de Lune” is one of your favorite classical songs is a bit like saying “Yesterday” is one of your favorite Beatles songs. It’s such an unchallenging opinion that it has almost no meaning.

But I love it. I really, really do. I love it so much I want to name my next daughter Clair, and my third daughter Lune.

Debussy, a pioneer of the modernist movement of concert music, didn’t typically use the standard classical forms. He broke music down into shapeless pieces that stripped music down to its essence: Communicating a specific feeling or idea through sonic composition.

That means that complex structures comprising themes and motifs — epitomized in works like Beethoven’s great symphonies — are dismantled and discarded in the name of direct connection. As great as “sonata form” is in the right hands, it’s a bit… prescriptive. Enter open-ended modernism.

For me, “Clair de Lune,” the third movement of Suite bergamasque, perfectly captures the feeling of walking by a lake with the reflection of a full moon as you consider some more challenging topic.

It flits back and forth between conscious melodies and atmospheric soliloquy. The song’s mood is an indescribable amalgam of nostalgia and optimism and floating. I love that it ends so quietly, as if a solemn prayer of realization.

Call me cliche, but “Clair de Lune” is one of the most perfect compositions ever.

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Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

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