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Claude Debussy (20th Century Composers) Paperback – April 23, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

Review

'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

About the Author

Paul Roberts is the author of The End of Oil, a finalist for the New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Book Award in 2005. He has written about resource economics and politics for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Rolling Stone, and lectures frequently on business and environmental issues. He lives in Washington State.
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Product Details

  • Series: 20th Century Composers
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Phaidon Press (April 23, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0714835129
  • ISBN-13: 978-0714835129
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #926,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Paul Robert's biography of the great French composer Claude Debussy fits in well with the other composer biographies published by Phaidon Press. It is 240 pages, lavishly illustrated, and focuses more on the life of Debussy than on the details of his music. Roberts is mainly focused on Debussy's relationships with the people in his life. His teachers, his friends and rivals, and his numerous wives and mistresses are presented. Roberts is able to report a great deal of these interpersonal dynamics by citing correspondence, many examples of which have only recently come to light. Roberts builds up a picture of Debussy as something of a man-child, unable to hold down a steady income or build a family, but nonetheless someone who made great and influential music.

I found the book useful for getting a chronology of Debussy's music. However, anyone looking to know more about the music, where Debussy may have taken inspiration for his striking innovations, and how these works were received would do better to seek out other resources.
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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.
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This book, CLAUDE DEBUSSY, is an excellent overview of Debussy's life. Because of the information and reading suggestions in the appendix, I am currently reading another one of the composer's life. This one, as mentioned by Paul Roberts, is excellent, also. Mr. Roberts' book is a welcome addition to my music history library and I am sure I will be referring to it in my opera history classes come September. It is a cut above the average bio. The comments are especially noteworthy!
Dr.Alan-Clarke Hudson
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