The Influence of Asian Art Noveau to Claude Debussy's Arabesque No. One

"Music is a mysterious kind of mathematics, the elements of which are part of eternity. It lives in the movement of water, in the play of the waves in the changing winds; there is nothing more musical than a sunset! For those who look and listen with their hearts, the best theory of evolution is written in a book that musicians rarely read: the book of nature". -- Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy’s works were composed in the era of Art Nouveau -- a term applied to the commercial art that was a protest against the industrialisation of the early 1870s and against the still very ugly machines; it was a time when people were nostalgically remembering workmanship, artistic skill and craftsmanship. On the other hand, Art Nouveau can also be seen as the movement of a whole epoch which embraced all areas of life and art and attempted to lessen the distance between the harmony of plants and animals and mankind. In the visual arts, commercial art and architecture, plant, animal and human motifs prevailed. Houses, furniture and vases were fashioned in the form of plants, there were sea-shell lamps and anthropomorphic chairs. Many different forms of art emphasised the musical element, numerous paintings bore musical titles, and literature cultivated all that was beautiful and rare - right up to the point of exaggerated aestheticism, to the rejection of the natural portrayal and the cultivation of symbols.
We know that whereas Debussy rejected the word impressionism, he did not reject impressions as is evident from this extract from one of his letters: "Collect impressions. Don’t be in a hurry to note them down, for music has an advantage over painting in that it can combine the variations of colour and light into one aspect."
The combining impressions on Art Nouveau concepts may have inspired Debussy to base his Arabesque composition from the designs found in, for example, Arabic art. The movements and curved lines of the motives dissolve into purposeless lines, into ornaments (arabesques). This two-dimensional, ornamental means of portrayal has its counterpart in Asiatic art.
The repetitive patterns in the picture is synonymous to the repetitive musical idea presented in the first few measures which is present throughout the piece. I used an arabesque pattern in a pottery picture, quadruplicated it, and fit those four together by inverting and rotating the images so that they form one whole piece.
The different line designs indicate the different parts of the piece. The flowing musical lines are like the curvy decorative designs. The freedom of form (not to he mistaken for its dissolution) does not indicate a rhapsodic gliding-over from one bar to another or a loose improvisation on a couple of sounds or scraps of melody. To the contrary, everything is most carefully composed; every detail is minutely indicated. Like the intricacies of the arabesque designs in visual art, melodic form can still be seen or heard.