Fêtes is the middle movement from Debussy’s three Nocturnes. Literally meaning Festivals, this work offers a dancing vibrating rhythm with sudden flashes of light with a grotesque procession-like theme in the middle.
Debussy’s Nocturnes are a set of three orchestral pieces inspired by three paintings by the American James McNeill Whistler from the 1870s. These three paintings, also entitled Nocturnes, were studies in light and shade offering an impression of landscapes and objects. The second movement, Fêtes (Festivals) offers a dancing vibrating rhythm with sudden flashes of light. There is also a procession, described by Debussy as a dazzling fantastic vision, which passes through the festive scene and becomes merged in it. However the background remains the same driving dance-like work. Debussy wrote the Nocturnes between 1897 and 1899 and the first two movements, the first being Clouds, received their première in Paris in 1900. The first performance met with a cool critical reception and Debussy made many revisions thereafter to all three movements.