Debussy’s Ostinato Machine
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Debussy’s Ostinato Machine book
A common form of construction in early twentieth-century music is what one might call the ‘ostinato machine’: a composite ostinato in which each of the separate strands pursues its own harmonic/rhythmic course, together creating a dense polyphonic structure. Debussy’s ‘other’ faun, unlike the hedonist of Mallarme, is a rather sinister figure: old, malicious, serving as a reminder of the transitory nature of pleasure: the rattle of his tambourine is also a death-rattle. It is appropriate, then, that the musical structure in which the composer chooses to embody him is a tight one, with many different ideas, many different types of music, compressed into a short space of time. Constructions of the sort just discussed are obviously an exceptional occurrence, not only in the music of such an avowedly intuitive composer as Debussy. The ostinato – in the conventional, if not in the extended meaning of the term – was clearly an important part of his vocabulary.