Claude Debussy
Nuages: from Nocturnes

Arranged by Randall Malmstrom

Six tenor and two bass trombones

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Publisher: Cherry Classics Music
Date of Publication: 2018

Score and parts


Nocturnes, composed in 1899, was a seminal work in the evolution of tonality, the first major work in which clear tonic-dominant progressions were abandoned after 200 years of customary use. Mark DeVoto points out that Nuages has a key signature of B minor, but this tonality is never clearly established; there are no functional dominants and the note B appears only once as the root of a major or minor triad. A ray of sunshine breaks briefly through the clouds with a key change to F-sharp major at m.56; it is hidden again with a return to the original ‘key’ in m.71. The initial tempo marking is Moderato; many conductors take it at a slower Andante, and a typical performance takes over eight minutes.


This transcription for six tenor and two bass trombones is kept in the original ‘key.’ Parts 1, 2, 5 and 6 are given in tenor clef, otherwise in bass clef. No one has an easy part and the lead parts are especially demanding. In m.7, first has an entry on b1, marked pp, and in m.14 on c-sharp2. Trombone 5 tops out at b1 in four separate measures. Most of the piece is at a quiet dynamic, going down to pppp, and rising to forte in one measure only. All parts call for straight mute, and all except first for cup mute. Bucket mutes are indicated for first, second and bass trombone 8. The arranger has inserted a note indicating that ‘mute designations are editorial suggestions, and they may be adjusted or omitted.’


This unusual and technically demanding arrangement is also a challenge to musical intelligence. Well-played, I think it will make a memorable impression on any recital program. Randall Malmstrom is a trombonist and arranger in Portland, Oregon.

Reviewer: Keith Davies Jones
Review Published January 25, 2019