I binged through Only Murders in the Building last weekend, and aside from it being a great and very entertaining TV series, it had some fantastic music. The score is just the right kind of light-hearted bounciness you might expect for this mystery-comedy series, but it was the one, short instance of Clair de lune in the first episode that captured my attention. For me, this is the most memorable piece of music from the show.
What is it about this classic composition from Claude Debussy? I was not thinking about it in any way until it appeared during Martin Short’s opening monologue, but as soon as he said “Clair de lune” something in my brain was triggered. I don’t know where the knowledge came from but I knew instantly the composer was Debussy. The song grabbed me and for days was all I could focus on. It’s such a calming and relaxing song, and despite being already calm and relaxed, was somehow exactly what I needed.
Knowing that most classical compositions tend to be widely available in the public domain I started a search on Jamendo for versions of Clair de lune, to see if there were any different interpretations. I found 6 different versions, and they all offered something slightly different (even the ones that stayed closer to a traditional interpretation).
Toby Darling – Claire de lune Ambient
This version is a mix of flute and electronic instruments; it feels like it comes from a 16-bit RPG from the 90s. Of the instrumentals this was the most original.
On the same day after I found my six copies of Clair de lune, I found a playlist on Spotify that contained Clair de lune and other similar compositions – pieces that I would describe as soft and relaxing. Gentle music. The playlist gave me a similar feeling as Debussy’s piece. I felt calm, relaxed, and at peace, even as I was busying around making dinner. I wanted to fill the air with music, and for whatever reason classical music fit the bill. It was something different, I didn’t need to worry about whether or not I wanted to skip to the next track.
Eric – Claire de lune
This is an acoustic guitar version; the overall melody is there, but the way he plays it gives his version a “coffee shop” vibe.
François Térrog – Claire de lune
Another acoustic interpretation, but this is also the only version with lyrics. His voice roughens up the song while keeping the dream-like quality. My French is not good enough to properly interpret the lyrics, unfortunately.
I wonder if the song’s use in various forms of media in dream-like settings influences my feelings when listening to Clair de lune; I describe the song as dream-like, but is that because that’s how I’ve seen it used so many times in the past? I think it’s something that is actually baked into the notes and how they’re played on the piano, which then informs directors to use the music in similar settings.
In any case this adventure of finding so many variations of the same music composition has been interesting. Each artist (or ensemble) uses the basic outline, but they bring something of their own to showcase.
OnClassical gives us a traditional presentation. They play the notes as written without deviation. But there is another traditional interpretation by Harold Haase, and it too sounds different. Is it a different piano? Is he playing at a slightly higher octave, or given his sound a higher pitch?
Pinkaide‘s version is traditional, but I hear more improvisation and “looser fingers” on the keys. But then there’s Brent Hugh – his is very much softer, and quieter, like he’s trying to get you to listen closely so you can better hear what he’s doing with his piano.
All of this – Clair de lune, similar classical compositions – gives me a picture of where, when, and how I am listening to this music. It’s a Sunday morning in the Fall while the leaves are still on the trees (but they are all different shades of red, yellow, and orange). I’m sitting on my lounger, maybe the fire is on – or not, it’s not very cold in the house yet. I have a coffee, and a book. I’m relaxed. I could possibly sleep here if I felt like it. The music takes me away.
And that’s exactly what I want the music to do.
Note: After writing this I discovered I was misspelling Clair de lune and searched Jamendo for Claire; it turns out there are many more versions in the search results and I fully intend on exploring them.