Voiles is a composition by Claude Debussy for solo piano from 1909. It is the second piece in a set of twelve préludes published in 1910. The title of the piece may be translated to English as either veils or sails; both meanings can be connected to the musical structure (see below). Except for some mild, localized chromaticism and a short pentatonic passage, the entire piece uses the whole tone scale.[1]

In their published form, the Préludes have their individual titles printed not at the start, but at the end—and in parentheses.

Musical analysisEdit

A whole tone scale in Debussy's Voiles, mm.1-4.[2][3]

The composition studies the whole tone scale intensively, with the exception of a brief six-measure section in the pentatonic scale.

The structure of the piece follows a ternary (A–B–A') form. A begins in m. 1; B begins in m. 42; and A' begins in m. 48. This three-part form is articulated by the dynamic structure: A and A' have only soft dynamics (piano or softer), while B has a wider dynamic from piano to forte. The B section is also set apart by a faster tempo and increased density of notes. Finally, the A and A' sections are characterized by a whole-tone scale, while the B section is characterized by an E-flat minor pentatonic scale. The whole-tone scale and the soft dynamics give the A and A' sections a mysterious and eerie mood. In the B section, the louder dynamics, the faster passage, and the more consonant and familiar pentatonic scale give the listener a break from the eerie tone, allowing a brief moment of clarity.

Pentatonic scale in Debussy's Voiles, Preludes, Book I, no. 2, mm.43-45.[4]  Play 

If interpreting the movement in light of "veils," the eerie, mysterious mood of the A section sounds veiled. The clearer, more open sound of the B section generates an impression that the veil is removed, but returns for the A' section. If one takes "sails" as a possible understanding of the title, that leads to a possible image of a becalmed ship in the A and A' sections, with the clearer, louder, brighter B section denoting a more open sea and sails full of wind. Generally however, there is no clear structure that the piece fits easily into; neither ternary form nor binary form fit in with the style of the piece. Some say (who?) that the pentatonic section forms the B part but, in truth, it is not clear enough to state it is definitely ABA. Others argue that it follows a Rounded Binary form more than Ternary form due to the fact that there is an A part, B part and then another bit at the end, concluding all of his ideas.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ pp. 133–136, The Piano Works of Claude Debussy, Elie Robert Schmitz, with foreword by Virgil Thomson, Courier Dover Publications, 1966. ISBN 0-486-21567-9.
  2. ^ Benward & Saker (2009). Music in Theory and Practice: Volume II, p.246. Eighth Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-310188-0.
  3. ^ Benward & Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p.39. Seventh Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.
  4. ^ Benward & Saker (2009), p.245.
  • This article contains information translated from the corresponding article of the German Wikipedia. A list of contributors can be found there at the History section.

External linksEdit