Saturday, September 14, 2013

Debussy at 150

by Jann Pasler

Debussy by Nadar
On the 150th anniversary of Debussy’s birth, new perspectives on his life and music continue to emerge, as well as new questions. From his contracts with his publisher, we wonder if Debussy’s need for money had impact on his artistic creation. From new editions of unfinished works, we puzzle over his intentions. Certainly Debussy was a pioneer of modernism, influencing composers from Olivier Messiaen to Hugues Dufourt in France, and others as far away as the USA, Japan, Brazil, and Mexico. He was also deeply rooted in his times, his reputation linked to the discourses that helped to construct it, including our concerns today with race, politics, and popular culture. In original and provocative ways, scholars have plumbed the depths of individual pieces and techniques.

What is needed next is the long view. Over the years, did Debussy’s concepts of genre, tonality, timbre, and time change and evolve? How has his influence on other composers affected how we hear his music as well as theirs? And what are we missing by insisting on Debussy’s exceptionalism?
from “Debussy the Man, His Music, and His Legacy: An Overview of Current Research,” Notes  69/2 (December 2012): 197–216. 

Jann Pasler is Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego, and editor of the series AMS Studies in Musicology. She is author of the blockbuster pair of recent books, Writing through Music: Essays on Music, Culture, and Politics (Oxford UP, 2008) and Composing the Citizen: Music as Public Utility in Third Republic France (University of California Press, 2009).

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