The Little Nigar

The Little Nigar (CD 122, L. 114) is the original title by composer Claude Debussy for a short piece for piano, composed in 1909 for a piano method and published the same year. It was later also published as a single piece, entitled The Little Negro and Le petit nègre. In more recent times, the piece has also been published under the title Le petit noir (The Little Black).

The Little Nigar
Cake Walk
Piano music by Claude Debussy
Debussy 1893.jpg
Debussy at the piano in 1893
Other nameThe Little Negro / Le petit nègre
KeyC major
  • CD 122
  • L. 114
Composed1909 (1909)?
  • 1909
  • c. 1934


Debussy composed The Little Nigar (giving the noun this spelling)[1] in 1909[2] on a commission from Théodore Lack, for his piano method Méthode de Piano.[3][4] The subtitle describes it as a cakewalk.[3] It is reminiscent of Golliwogg's Cakewalk from his Children's Corner, a piano suite that he had composed a year earlier. In both pieces, rhythmic outer sections frame a melodic middle section. In Golliwogg's Cakewalk, the middle section satirically quotes the beginning of Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner, a composer who had influenced Debussy when he was young but from whose late romantic style Debussy later distanced himself.[5]

Debussy regularly sought exotic influences. In The Little Nigar, he alluded to banjo chords and drums,[6] influenced by American minstrel shows.[4] The piece, marked allegro, begins with a first theme presenting "jazzy" syncopes in 2
time, in the then popular ragtime style.[7] It is followed by a lyrical passage, marked espressivo and pianissimo (very softly), which leads to a return of the first section. The first theme leans towards pentatonic and is accompanied by a chromatic sequence of broken minor thirds.[8]

The Little Nigar was first published in 1909 by Éditions Alphonse Leduc in Paris as part of Lack's piano method and again as a single piece in about 1934, now with an added repetition and entitled The Little Negro, with subtitle Le petit nègre.[3][2]

Debussy also used the piece's main theme in his 1913 ballet for children, La boîte à joujoux, in which it characterises an English soldier.[6][5]

Numerous transcriptions in various instrumentations have been made of the piece. An arrangement for woodwinds has even been used for advertising Purina One dog food.[9]



  1. ^ McKinley, Ann (1986). "Debussy and American Minstrelsy". The Black Perspective in Music. JSTOR. 14 (3): 249–258. doi:10.2307/1215065. ISSN 0090-7790. JSTOR 1215065.
  2. ^ a b "The little Nigar". Centre de documentation Claude Debussy. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Heinemann, Ernst-Günter. "Postface" (PDF). Henle. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  4. ^ a b Scheytt, Jochen (2017). "Le petit nègre". Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  5. ^ a b Smith, Lindy (2008). "Out of Africa: The Cakewalk in Twentieth-Century / French Concert Music". Nota Bene: Canadian Undergraduate Journal of Musicology. 1 (1): 75–80. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  6. ^ a b Andres, Robert (2005). "An introduction to the solo piano music of Debussy and Ravel". BBC. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  7. ^ "The little Negro". Henle. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  8. ^ Eichmann, Andreas, ed. (2014). Kurt Weill und Frankreich (in German). Waxmann Verlag. p. 46. ISBN 978-3-83-098077-3.
  9. ^ Brown, Matthew (2012). Debussy Redux: The Impact of His Music on Popular Culture. Indiana University Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-25-335716-8.

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