Appreciation of Claude Debussy's Tarantelle styrienne (Danse) is enhanced by an understanding of the significance and strengths of his early piano compositions, which were probably written in the 1880s. Often seriously underrated, their evanescent charm is colored by rich influences including playful archaism and witty neo-classicalism. Similar to short stories, these compositions must often be built on a single, succinct idea that is presented, developed, and concluded in a satisfactory manner, within a very small amount of space. For Debussy's rather rare achievement of this goal, his early piano works have been called "master-cameos, each of which is perfect in form and shape, refined to the barest essentials and yet luxuriantly rounded and complete." These youthful pieces fall under one of two distinct categories, song-like ballads or pure dance forms, and they reveal the composer's extraordinary understanding of the piano through their "symphonic" tonal colors and sensual harmonies. They were influenced by, as were all his early works, composers such as Massenet, Delibes, Chabrier, and Fauré, by the commedia dell'arte clown characters Pierrot, Harlequin, and company, and by poets such as Verlaine and Mallarmé.
Tarantelle styrienne was written in 1890 after Debussy returned from Villa Medici, Italy, where he had spent over two years studying as part of the requirements of the Prix de Rome, which he received in 1883. It was after his close relationship ceased with Marie-Blanche Vasnier and around the time that he became a companion to Gabrielle Dupont (aka Gaby), that this and other piano works appeared. The title shifts the traditionally Italian tarantella to Austria (Styria) and the Slavic influences that affected the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The composition was paired with Ballade slave; their picturesque titles were shortened in 1903, and they became known, respectively, as Danse and Ballade. Both works recall the composer's travels to Russia with Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck (early 1880s).
Considered the king of his early works, Danse is a robust, colorful piece with a sparkling middle section that shows a slight influence of Watteau and is permeated by the images of the commedia dell'arte. Its whirling syncopation is felt in the sprightly alternation of 6/8 patterns (like a true tarantella, not too fast) with 3/4 waltz rhythm. It contained the seed of his later compositional style, especially in the translucent, delicate tones of the dominant portion. For example, Masques, another underrated piano works, appeared in 1904, recalling this composition. Debussy's works were rewritten by Maurice Ravel, who transcribed Danse for orchestra as an act of homage after the composer's death. Since its first publication, the original piano work has been widely recorded.