The First Modernist

Richard Taruskin

in The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays

Published by University of California Press

Published in print December 2008 | ISBN: 9780520249776
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520942790 | DOI:
The First Modernist

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This chapter discusses the first twentieth-century composer Claude Debussy, the man with whom modern music begins. This chapter includes roughly a quarter of Debussy's surviving correspondence. Prior to the appearance in 1980 of the original French edition, his published letters were scattered among a dozen or so small assemblages, each limited to one or two epistolary partners, some of them in back issues of rather obscure French periodicals. Access was cumbersome. François Lesure, head of the music division of the Bibliothèque Nationale, who has already put us in his debt for a comprehensive collection of Debussy's critical prose, has made a very judicious selection. Debussy's epistolary style, like his music, is ironic, nuanced, allusive, ambiguous. Everything means more than it says. Like the characters in Pelléas et Mélisande—whom, in his later correspondence, he actually fell into the habit of quoting—Debussy intones his little sentences deadpan, depending on a vast reservoir of subtext to complete the meaning.

Keywords: epistolary style; François Lesure; Cluade Debussy; Pelléas et Mélisande; operas

Chapter.  3534 words. 

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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