Claude Debussy: Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune

Class: Grade 8                                                 Date: TBD

Topic: Social Issues                                         Subject: Music

Lesson Plan50 Minutes 
Content: Students are introduced to modern era composer Claude Debussy by watching a performance of his Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune. Discussion regarding the interdisciplinary art expressions Debussy used (music with poetry) to further express and capture his feelings. We too can use art to address social justice, pulling inspiration from Debussy’s composition and Mallarme’s poem by creating our own cut poetry.
Outcomes and Indicators:
(Arts Ed) CH8.4 Examine and respond to the work of artists who incorporate more than one art form in their work (e.g., combining poetry and music). a. Examine and discuss various interdisciplinary arts expressions (i.e., using two or more disciplines in the work). b. Collaborate with others to create interdisciplinary work that addresses issues of social justice and/or other topics of interest to youth (e.g., relationships, body image, racism, sustainability).
(ELA) CR8.1 View, listen to, read, comprehend, and respond to a variety of texts that address identity (e.g., Becoming Myself), social responsibility (e.g., In Search of Justice), and efficacy (e.g., Building a Better World). View, listen to, read, and respond to a variety of visual, multimedia (including digital), oral, and print texts that address the grade-level themes and issues related to identity, social responsibility, and efficacy including those that reflect diverse personal identities, worldviews, and backgrounds (e.g., appearance, culture, socio-economic status, ability, age, gender, sexual orientation, language, career pathway). 
Assessment: Cut poetry is handed in at the end of class with 2 sentences explaining/ commenting on their poem: what it means to them and how it applies/ represents their social justice cause.
Prerequisite Learning: Students need to know and understand what social justice is and be able to choose one as their “cause”. Social justice can include: Relationshipsbody imageracismsustainability
Lesson Preparation Equipment/Materials Computer, Audio, Internet, YouTube (first 2 minutes)Cardstock, scissors, glue, pencils, pens, markers Advanced Preparation Photocopy poem by Mallarme, one per student   Variety of books that address identity
Set: (5 min) Debussy was inspired to compose this orchestral work based off a poem by Mallarme which is about a faun, a mythological character of the forest who is half man, half goat. He is visited by three lovely nymphs. The hazy, dreamy quality of the poem is captured in Debussy’s sensuous music. Let’s listen! Introduce students to Debussy’s composition Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune.

Development: (35 min) One student reads soliloquy (included, I wrote). Discuss Mallarme’s first response to Debussy using his poem to be set to music. Mallarme was not happy at all. His friend Paul Valery stated: “He believed that his own music was sufficient, and that even with the best intentions in the world, it was a veritable crime as far as poetry was concerned to juxtapose poetry and music, even if it were the finest music there is.” Debussy was not deterred and invited Mallarme to the premiere performance of Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune. Mallarme had a change of heart and said: “I have just come out of the concert, deeply moved: what a marvel! …Listen to the composition for yourself!” Music and poetry have been combined because Debussy saw the desires and dreams of the faun moving in a warm afternoon and he wanted to create a similar atmosphere musically. We can create interdisciplinary work that addresses issues of all kinds. Today we will focus on social justice. Display books that address identity, encourage students to choose a social justice topic that is important to them and have them create cut poetry in partners from the poem by Mallarme. They may add words of their own to assist in the creative process. The students can choose to make their cut poetry visually appealing using markers, etc.  

Closure: (10 min) Students can read their created cut poetry aloud. Give them a few minutes to write on the back of their cut poetry what it means to them and how it applies/ represents their social justice choice.
Classroom Management Strategies   Hand out the poem; one per student.    Look for a student volunteer with strong reading skills.         Students may not know what veritable means: true/ accurate.           Debate! Can we combine different art forms? Use one art form to respond to another art form.           Students do not have to share their cut poetry vocally in front of the class but are encouraged to.


  1. Students may choose to write a song with or without lyrics to represent their social justice cause.
  2. Students may work in larger groups to create longer poetic stanzas, possibly becoming a song.
  3. Students may enjoy explore using classroom instruments to assist in creating their cut poetry. 

Adaptive Dimension:

  1. Students may prefer to draw/ colour their “cut” poetry instead of using the words to express themselves.


My name is Claude Debussy and I was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France in 1862 (158 years ago). My father was a china shop owner while my mother was a seamstress. I began piano lessons at the age of 7. When I was 10 years-old I entered the Paris Conservatoire aspiring to be a pianist but my interest soon changed to composition. I received many awards.

I worked as a pianist, collaborative artist, and conductor. Although I gained fame and notoriety, I had a very turbulent romantic life being involved in scandalous romantic relationships. I married my first wife Rosalie Texier in 1899. Rosalie threatened to kill herself if I didn’t marry her. I ended up having an affair with Emma Bardac (Rosalie attempted suicide at this point) and we had a baby girl together before I divorced Rosalie and finally married Emma.

I am highly original and innovative and I am influential in both France and internationally. Impressionist painters influenced my music. I am more interested in evoking rather than narrating and suggesting rather than depicting. I am drawn to mythological subjects that are often witty and satirical. I died of cancer March 25, 1918.

Poem, L’apres-midi d’un faune by Stephane Mallarne

I would immortalize these nymphs: so bright
Their sunlit coloring, so airy light,
It floats like drowsing down. Loved I a dream?
My doubts, born of oblivious darkness, seem
A subtle tracery of branches grown
The tree’s true self—proving that I have known
No triumph, but the shadow of a rose. 

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