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    Can Debussy’s Music be accurately described as Impressionist? Essay

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    Another Symbolist aspect to Debussy is that of his interest in Wagner; the Symbolists were ardent admirers of his music. Debussy first encountered Wagner during his studies at the Paris Conservatoire in 1872. 17 Parallels can be drawn between both composers’ works, especially in the similarities between Tristan und Isolde (1860) and Pelli?? as et Mi?? lisande (1904); bothhave similar thematic material and narrative methods and employ leitmotif liberally. 18 19 While Debussy later rejected Wagner’s compositional methods, it is clear that the German’s music had a great influence upon his own.

    20 Richard Holloway argues that Debussy’s music is too original to be classed as Wagnerian, but maintains that it could not exist without Wagner. 21 A further influence excluded by the categorisation of Impressionism is that of Exoticism. In 1889 he attended the Exposition Universelle where he discovered East Asian music, namely gamelan, said to be influences upon both Fantaisie (1889-90) and Pour le piano (1901). 22 Debussy’s love of Japan is clearly demonstrated by ‘Pagodes’ (Estampes, 1903) and of Spain by Ibi?? ria (Images, 1905-12), ‘Le si?? ri??

    nade interrompue’ (Pri?? ludes: Livre I, 1910) and ‘La puerta del vino’ (Pri?? ludes: Livre II, 1913). In spite of attempts to label Debussy’s music, which he fought strongly against throughout his life, it is clear that no vague label can be definitively applied to any of his works, let alone as a whole. His attempts to break free of such labels show a clear drive for individualism; whilst he identified with the Impressionists and Symbolists and took inspiration from a wide variety of sources, he was unwilling to be reduced to a mere sum of his influences.

    23 The scholarly consensus seems to be that the use of Impressionism (or any -ism) as a descriptive term is a simplification that does little justice to the complexity of Debussy’s music. The usage of ‘Debussyism’ by Debussy’s followers and critics may well have annoyed him, but it demonstrates that his music was distinctive enough to escape from the arbitrary categorisation he so despised. Claude Debussy, Impressionist or otherwise, has left a lasting impression upon the world of music.

    Word Count: 1996 Bibliography Lockspeiser, Edward, Debussy, 2nd ed (London: Dent, 1963)Lockspeiser, Edward, Debussy: his life and mind (Melbourne: Cassell, 1962), 1 (1862 – 1902) Palmer, Christopher, Impressionism in Music (London: Hutchinson, 1973) Pool, Phoebe, Impressionism (London: Thames and Hudson, 1967) Roberts, Paul, Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy (Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 1996) Roberts, Paul, Claude Debussy (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2008) Schmitz, E. Robert, The Piano Works of Claude Debussy (New York: Dover, 1966) Tresize, Simone, Debussy: La mer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) Holloway, Robin, Debussy and Wagner (London: Eulenberg Books, 1979).

    1 Paul Roberts, Claude Debussy (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2008), p. 66. 2 E. Robert Schmitz, The Piano Works of Claude Debussy, 2nd edn (New York: Dover Publications, 1966), p. 13. 3 Christopher Palmer, Impressionism in Music (London: Hutchinson, 1973), p. 13. 4 Schmitz, p. 66. 5 Paul Roberts, Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy (Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 1996), p. 116. 6 Schmitz, pp. 13-15. 7 Christopher Palmer, Impressionism in Music (London: Hutchinson, 1973), pp. 17-19. 8 Ibid. , p. 18. 9 Simon Tresize, Debussy: La mer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p.37. 10 Ibid. , pp. 35-37. 11 Schmitz, p. 130. 12.

    Edward Lockspeiser, Debussy, 2nd ed (London: Dent, 1963), p. 156 13 Schmitz, p. 134. 14 Ibid. , pp. 136-137. 15 Roberts, Images, p. 249. 16 Schmitz, p. 136. 17 Roberts, Claude Debussy, p. 67. 18 Ibid. , p. 44. 19 Ibid. , pp. 106-107. 20 Ibid. pp. 41-42. 21 Robin Holloway, Debussy and Wagner (London: Eulenberg Books, 1979), p. 14. 22 Frani?? ois Lesure, “Debussy, Claude. ” Oxford Music Online. <oxfordmusiconline. com/subscriber/article/grove/music/07353> [accessed 27 March 2009]. 23 Roberts, Images, p. 121.

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