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Claude Debussy (20th Century Composers) Paperback – 4 Apr 2008
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"Roberts […] is a distinguished interpreter… An intimate portrait that takes us nearer to the heart of the music than any biography before… With copious quotes from the composer's letters and articles, Roberts charts the unstoppable evolution of his subtly revolutionary art – designed… but defining the course of Western music."―Michael Church, The Independent
"Incisive… Roberts meets the challenge of both person and music with empathy and acumen… As for the composer's writings […], here again Roberts is both sharp and sensible… Generous quotations from letters and memoirs support this elegantly written volume."―Roger Nichols, BBC Music Magazine
"Excellent design... Lavish illustrations... Roberts shows virtuosity in putting Debussy's music as a whole in the context of the man. So well does Roberts capture the unconventionality of the man [...] that descriptions of the revolutionary nature of the music seem nothing but natural."―Andrew Green, Piano
"it's no surprise that each book is beautifully produced on shiny thick paper and filled with gorgeous illustrations. The texts are excellent too."―Pittsburgh, PA Post Gazette
On the 20th Century Composers Series
"As a series, Phaidon's 20th Century Composers has brought remarkable variety and a welter of information, both necessary and delightfully trivial. Intended both for the general reader and for the more enthusiastically musical."―The Scotsman
Born near Paris in 1862, Claude Debussy was one of the most influential composers of his age, affecting profoundly the works of later generations of composers, both in his native France and elsewhere. He was trained at the Paris Conservatoire, and decided there on a career as a composer rather than as a pianist, his original intention. His highly characteristic musical language, thoroughly French in inspiration, extended the contemporary limits of harmony and form, with a remarkably delicate command of nuance, whether in composition for the piano or in the handling of a relatively large orchestra. Considered by many to be the most important composer of piano music since Chopin, Debussy also produced a single opera, "Pelleas et Melisande", which brought an entirely new tone to the genre. This, however, was his only completed opera and instead his work predominantly comprises orchestral pieces, piano sets and songs. The orchestral works include "The Three Nocturnes" (1899), "The Three Images" (1912) and "The Ballet Jeux" (1913).Debussy's piano music begins with works that, Verlaine fashion, look back at earlier musical styles with a modern cynicism (Suite bergamasque, 1890; Pour le piano, 1901). But then, as in the orchestral pieces, Debussy began to associate his music with visual impressions of the East, Spain, landscapes etc, in a sequence of sets of short pieces. His last volume of "Etudes" (1915) interprets similar varieties of style and texture purely as pianistic exercises and includes pieces that develop irregular form to an extreme, as well as others influenced by the young Stravinsky (a presence too in the suite En blanc et noir for two pianos, 1915). A planned set of six chamber sonatas was sadly cut short by the composer's death from cancer in 1918. Perhaps the most influential composer of his generation (and certainly one who provoked much contemporary controversy), Debussy's influence continues to be felt in the twenty-first century. See all Product description
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I bought this book hoping it would explain it but in truth it didn't but that doesn't mean the book isn't any good, far from it. Paul Roberts' book is well written (to the extent that the early pages could be candidates for Private Eye's 'Pseuds Corner' and the author does love the word 'milieu') and tells the 'global' story of Debussy rather than any musical detail. I wanted to know why the music was so different but this is not explained. However what is explained is Debussy the person and what a person he was.
Clearly he fits into the box of 'flawed genius' for which read 'pain in the proverbial'. Roberts' description left me thinking Debussy was severely 'high-maintenance' to the extent of the 'Emperor's New Clothes'. Yes Claude of course that is brilliant, when it wasn't. But of course it always was brilliant. For me only Rachmaninov is better, yet Rachmaninov is clunkily brilliant and Debussy is tenderly brilliant. I am still amazed at the sound that is produced in the first Arabesque if you stop short of the ending, after the run up the keyboard - the guy was a true genius.
I really enjoyed Paul Roberts' book, I just wish it had had more detail about 'why' the music sounds like it does. It was also amusing and sad in a way to feel that the music I really love, Suite Bergamasque and Children's Corner are really trivial compared with the others (which I don't know) although at least we all agree on Apres Midi etc.
I was left with the feeling that I know so little about the composition of the music and how I wished I had studied music to a higher level - there is more to it than meets the ear - and Debussy recognised that and played on it, with amazing success, though much to his chagrin not financially.
Good book, well worth a read and I have to say thanks to Paul Roberts for bothering to answer e-mails I sent him, his book has inspired me to listen to the Debussy I don't know.
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Mr Roberts is more than a fine concert pianist and life-long Debussy admirer and scholar. I'm a literary journalist and novelist and this book is among the best non-fiction I have read.
The music of Debussy is given detailed, yet not too technical explanations. E.g., "One of Debussy's accomplishments in Pelleas et Melisande was the extraordinary balance that he achieved between orchestra and text, and the way in which he allowed the 'expressive force' of the words to control the dramatic action."
His relationships with other composers are also chronicled. "Erik Satie was a continual presence throughout Debussy's great creative maturing of the 1890s. He witnessed it, worshipped it, and to a large extent was involved in it..." Debussy was encouraging of the young Igor Stravinsky (twenty years younger than him), and "clearly found Le Sacre a deeply frightening challenge to his own hold on musical values."
Debussy's private life was sometimes chaotic and controversial. Concerning his "sudden" marriage in 1899, which was "An undoubted rebound from his depression, (that) was to end in disaster and led to the final withdrawing of Claude Debussy behind a screen of prickly taciturnity, from which he rarely emerged for the rest of his life." (Roberts notes that Debussy's first wife shot herself in the breast, attempting to kill herself after he left her.)
Overall, this is a fascinating biography for fans of Debussy and his music.
Paul Roberts' book on the French composer Claude Debussy is a well-researched and well-written document on this dynamic musical genius. Debussy's musical and personal life are discussed in detail without becoming overly pretentious. Roberts provides an inside look into Debussy's creativity as a composer as well as his life outside of music. It's almost like getting to meet Debussy in person and having a friend of his tell you his life story.
This book is definitely a must for the avid Debussy fan. Although I've been a fan of Debussy's music for well over 20 years, I have further appreciation for him and his music after reading this book. Because of this, it comes highly recommended. It's an excellent biography on a most excellent composer and musician. A Must-Read!!!