©Rudolf Gilch

Since the end of the 19th century, many composers have been inspired and fascinated by Balinese Gamelan music. Debussy, Poulenc and McPhee devoted themselves to studying Gamelan music and incorporated its motives, structures and harmonies into their compositions .

In 1889 Debussy first heard a Gamelan Orchestra in Paris and was mesmerized by the layered texture and the counterpoint he discovered in the Balinese compositions.

„Thus Javanese Music obeys laws of counterpoint that make Palestrina seem like child’s play.“ -C. Debussy  *

In many of his works he uses foreign composition techniques and creates oriental sounds such as in „Pagodes“ from „Estampes“ where the asian influence is evident.

Francis Poulenc was introduced to Gamelan music in 1931 thanks to the „Exposition Coloniale de Paris“. He encountered similar experience to Debussy and blended Gamelan techniques in his compositions. In his Sonata for two pianos (1953) he contrasts vivid movement with extraordinary calm and meditative sections. The sounds he creates illustrate his studies on foreign instruments such as „Gongs“ and other mainly percussive instruments.

In the 1930’s Colin McPhee spent many years in Bali dedicating himself entirely on the studies of Balinese culture, rituals, religion, dance and music.

In these years he experienced genuine Balinese culture attending temple ceremonies and working together with important Balinese composers and musicians. He notated melodies and rhythmic patterns of every Gamelan he heard and made over 40 direct transcriptions of Gamelan compositions. These years shaped his compositional style in a significant way and he played an important role in spreading Gamelan Music to other cultures. Most of 20th and 21st century composers (among them Benjamin Britten, John Cage, Philip Glass, Steve Reich etc.) have been influenced by Balinese music or wrote music for Gamelan instruments. McPhee’s led the way to Minimalism already 30 years prior to the minimalist movement by using prominent techniques and fundamental elements of this style in „Balinese Ceremonial Music“.



*from Echoes from the East: „The Javanese Gamelan and Its Influence on the Music of Claude Debussy“ written by Kiyoshi Tamagawa

Claude Debussy (arr. Ravel): 3 Nocturnes

1. Nuages

2. Fêtes

3. Sirènes


Colin McPhee: Balinese Ceremonial Music

1. Gambangan

2. Pemoengkah

3. Taboeh Teloe


Francis Poulenc: Sonata for two pianos

1. Prologue. Extremement lent et calme

2. Allegro molto. Très rythmé

3. Andante lyrico. Lentement

4. Epilogue. Allegro giocoso