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Claude Debussy (20th Century Composers) Paperback – 4 Apr 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Phaidon Press (4 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0714835129
  • ISBN-13: 978-0714835129
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 1.6 x 21.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 301,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


"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

About the Author

Paul Roberts combines concert pianism, writing and teaching in a career that takes him all over the world. He has recorded several discs of Debussy’s piano music to wide critical acclaim, a DVD on Debussy’s Preludes (Amadeus Press, 2006) and is the author of Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy. A book on Ravel, Reflections, is in preparation. He is an honorary fellow of London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama, visiting professor at the Royal Northern College of Music, and director of the piano summer school near Toulouse, France, Music at Castelfranc.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I was doing my A-Levels in the 1970s a friend of mine played 'Clair de Lune' at college and I remember thinking that is so cool. A few years later and I manage to teach myself the tune and to this day can still render a version that would only have Claude twitching in his grave. I then heard some synthesizer tune called 'Snowflakes falling' (or similar) and on reading the cover blurb found this to be a Debussy composition too, the first Arabesque. This is a tune which is still my favourite to play today some 31 years on. What was it about the music that was so different to the normal stuff I was made to play?

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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars 8 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Steven H Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) is the subject of this fairly brief, but very engaging and well-illustrated biography. Debussy's aesthetic was unique: "He wanted to create, he said later, music 'whose form was so free it would sound improvised.'"

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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! And arrived quickly. 28 Jun. 2016
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bought for one of my students! Thanks!
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 16 July 2016
By Dmuse - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book on Claude Debussy. 2 July 2008
By Louie Bourland - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've been waiting for a book like this for a very long time and it seems like finally, the wait is over.
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!!!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Biography 9 Mar. 2011
By Malcolm: Author Philosopher Artist & Poet - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are looking for a book which tells you about the life of Debussy and how his music erupted and emerged from his life . . . . then this is the book!
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