Classical Music Stories: The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Debussy

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Classical Music Stories is a series that connects music to your favorite books and characters. Since listening to classical music can be like hearing a story (albeit an abstract one), imagining specific stories that match the music can make it that much more fun and accessible!

As Halloween approaches it’s only appropriate that we look at some music and stories with otherworldly intrigue…

The second movement of Claude Debussy’s Petite Suite is called “Cortege,” which means “procession” in French. But what kind of procession does the music depict? Is it a stately procession of a king and queen? A more haphazard procession like a parade in a carnival? A funeral procession?

Well, based on the music here’s the story I imagined:

https://open.spotify.com/embed?uri=spotify:track:1H6RFBbXhysZMh0fLl0rfq

The twelve princesses are dancing with their underground princes but a soldier has finally succeeded in sneaking down with them using an invisibility cloak. All of the princesses are truly in love with their princes as they dance–all except one, who begins to feel slightly guilty about condemning every mortal prince to death who tries to discover their secret. [The invisible soldier is secretly observing all of these events.] However, when she tries to talk to her sisters about it they dismiss her feelings and continue to dance in splendor and magnificence.

To me this fairy tale captures the mix of splendor and unease that makes this music so amazing. But what else might this mystery/unease suggest? What other scenes might it be depicting? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

P.S. I know it’s been silent around here for a while (ha pun not intended) but I appreciate your understanding! Weekly posts should be back on track starting with a post next Wednesday.

You can check out classical music stories on Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, Hamlet, and many more here.

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