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Classical Music

Outdoors: Footprints in the snow


In his first book of Preludes, Claude Debussy wrote a melancholy piece, which in English is called "Footprints in the Snow."

Clearly, he intended to express desolation, for in the manuscript, he wrote, "This rhythm should have the sonorous value of a sad and frozen landscape."

Some have suggested that the 36-measure piece was inspired by an Impressionist painting. A Monet perhaps?

Or maybe the paired footprints are those of the composer.
Or at least, a human, because the recurring notes are in pairs. D-E , E-F…. D-E, E-F

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time following footprints in the snow.

It’s not hard to find the distinctive tracks of deer.

Deer have, on each of four feet, two hoofed toes that come to a point, making heart-shaped impressions.

But when snow is deep or has an icy crust, I find messy tracks in pairs—which doesn’t make sense, until I remember that deer, especially young deer, often place their hind feet into the tracks of their front feet. It conserves energy.

And for deer, saving energy is a survival necessity, especially "in a landscape sad and frozen."