Debussy: A Painter in Sound

Knopf. Oct. 2018. 337p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781524731922. $28.95. MUSIC
Most classical music aficionados would agree that Claude Debussy (1862–1918) is one of the world's greatest composers. Walsh (emeritus professor of music, Cardiff Univ.) likens Debussy to a "painter," though, curiously, he makes more references here to literature than painting. A central theme of this work is Debussy's rebellion against established musical forms, specifically, those of the Paris Conservatoire, which he attended. With detailed descriptions of Debussy's compositions, the author leads us through the evolution of his music to impressionism (a term Debussy rejected) and beyond. His recounting of the musician's personal life reveals a touchy individual who made frequent use of friends, especially women, without much regard for their well-being in his quest to perfect his work. Walsh's language is frequently quite technical; one would almost have to know what he's writing about to understand him properly. Unlike other biographies this year (e.g., of Chopin, Schumann, and Beethoven), this work, despite its detailed text and numerous references, provides no musical examples.
VERDICT Though the book shines a welcome light on the composer, his music, and his times, it is best suited for specialists and classically trained pianists. [See Prepub Alert, 4/9/18.]
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