The three movements are:
* I. "Nuages" ("Clouds")
* II. "Fêtes" ("Festivals")
* III. "Sirènes" ("
The three movements were inspired by a series of impressionist paintings, also entitled "Nocturnes" by
James McNeill WhistlerFact|date=February 2007.
Debussy wrote an "introductory note" to the Nocturnes as follows:
:"The title Nocturnes is to be interpreted here in a general and, more particularly, in a decorative sense. Therefore, it is not meant to designate the usual form of the Nocturne, but rather all the various impressions and the special effects of light that the word suggests. 'Nuages' renders the immutable aspect of the sky and the slow, solemn motion of the clouds, fading away in grey tones lightly tinged with white. 'Fêtes' gives us the vibrating, dancing rhythm of the atmosphere with sudden flashes of light. There is also the episode of the procession (a dazzling fantastic vision), which passes through the festive scene and becomes merged in it. But the background remains resistantly the same: the festival with its blending of music and luminous dust participating in the cosmic rhythm. 'Sirènes' depicts the sea and its countless rhythms and presently, amongst the waves silvered by the moonlight, is heard the mysterious song of the Sirens as they laugh and pass on."Fact|date=February 2007
"Nuages" and "Fêtes" were premiered by
Camille Chevillardwith the Lamoureux Orchestraon 9 December 1900in Paris. The complete suite was first heard under the same forces on 27 October 1901. The initial performances met with a cool response from critics and the public, but today these are considered some of Debussy's most accessible and popular works, admired for their beautyFact|date=October 2007. The music lasts for about 22 minutes.
It is scored for three
flutes, two oboes, english horn, two clarinets, three bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, snare drum, two harps, female chorus, and strings.
* "Nuages" has been transcribed for double
pianoby Maurice Ravel.
* "Fêtes" has been arranged for solo piano by the English pianist
Leonard Borwick, and the arrangement has been recorded by Emil Gilels, among others. [http://www.doremi.com/RecGilels.html]
* "Fêtes" has also been transcribed for large symphonic wind ensemble by Merlin Patterson (2007).
* [http://www.laphil.org/resources/piece_detail.cfm?id=311 Program note]
* [http://www.culture.gouv.fr/irpmf/fr/debussy_parc.htm Page in French, including Debussy's autograph scores]
* [http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/turnerwhistlermonet/room3.htm The paintings by Whistler that inspired Debussy]
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