Impressionism – both the visual and musical kind – attempted to capture “Reflections in the Water…” as Claude Debussy did in his Images for solo piano. He also wrote a different work with the same title for orchestra. On this A-to-Z edition of “The State of the Arts” the “I’s” have it… including an impromptu look at the Impromptu.
Originally the term “impressionist” was a criticism of the group of artists that included Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. They didn’t conform to the rules of composition, and although they often painted representationally, seemed to be no longer concerned with being “realistic”. The language of visual art was changing, and its purpose, as it became possible with photography to capture “perfectly” a moment. Instead, the mixing of colors and visible brush strokes could express something as ephemeral as sun reflecting on the surface of the water, or playing through the leaves of trees. And composers like Claude Debussy attempted to chart the same unfamiliar territory in sound.
The Impromptu, from its first appearance as a title in 1822, in a matter of a few decades went from being a piano piece that sounded “off the cuff” or like a sudden burst of inspiration of the composer, to the kind of knuckle-buster that continues to challenge solists today. Among the wide-ranging group of composers to write works with that title were Schubert, Liszt, Scriabin and Sibelius. Here’s one by Chopin, the ‘Fantasie-Impromptu’: