Debussy Footsteps in the Snow Arranged for Cello Quartet
Arranged by Charles Jacot
Title: Footsteps in the Snow (for Cello Quartet)
Composer: Claude Debussy
Edited By: Charles Jacot
Instrumentation: Violoncello Ensemble
Pages: 3 for the score and 4 pages for the cello parts
Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the Snow) is the sixth prelude from Debussy’s first book of these piano pieces. Debussy included titles to these pieces at their conclusions, more as afterthoughts than as programmatic writing.
Nevertheless the piece evokes a bleak and forlorn wintry mood as the insistent ostinato plods forward, and the broken melodic line hovers above. The coldness is intensified in the final bar by the wide range between the top and bottom voices, an almost frozen sound. The piece expresses a resigned sadness, without hope. The ostinato briefly climbs but always returns to its starting point, while around it much of the motion of the lines and harmony is falling.
In school I had a teacher who explained why Debussy’s music was like that of the Impressionist painters. He returns to his melodic material throughout a piece but always changes the harmonies around it, much like the cathedrals or haystacks of Monet, painted at different times in the day, came out with entirely different colors. This refusal to harmonize the tune the same way twice, to me, is philosophic and representative of nature. It is saying things are the same and yet never the same, as they (and we) are always changing and affected by others and the surrounding environment.
The piece lends itself well to a cello ensemble. Few compromises had to be made from the original. Debussy’s characteristic moving parallel fifths appear in the lower line, and these translate well to the cello. Des pas sur la neige makes an excellent companion piece to the arrangement of The Girl with the Flaxen Hair for cello quartet, as not only is there a key relationship, but the two moods could not be more contrasting.
Click below to preview or purchase a recording of Krystian Zimerman or Peter Frankl performing the original version of Debussy's Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the Snow) for piano.