5 books about Debussy to read on the 100th anniversary of his death

100 years ago on 25th March 1918, the French composer Claude Debussy died at the age of 55. To commemorate the 2018 centenary we have selected five books on Debussy – a talented, gifted man, who, despite his turbulent life left the world the most beautiful, dreamlike music, Clair de lune, La Mer and Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune counted among the best-loved.

That Jealous Demon, My Wretched Health

Disease, Death and Composers

by Jonathan Noble

On 25 March 1918, Debussy died whilst listening to the distant pounding of Paris by the German Big Bertha guns. He had lived a troubled life, marked by personal tragedies and ill health. In his upcoming book, former Manchester United surgeon, Jonathan Noble, lends his expertise to the medical case file on Debussy that has formed over the years, deducing how composers block, failed relationships, and drug use may have affected his music.

Debussy’s Resonance

Edited by Steven Huebner and François de Médicis

Weighing at 600 pages, this tome is the largest collection of essays on Claude Debussy and was borne out of an OICRM conference to celebrate the 150th year of his birth. Well-respected English and French experts offer a rich insight into the creative output of the beloved composer, from previously unexplored melodies of youth, to late work such as the ballet Jeux and Douze Etudes, to his treatment of French nursery rhymes, Japanese visual art, and his style as a performer.

Debussy’s Letters to Inghelbrecht

The Story of a Musical Friendship

Translated by Richard Miller and edited by Margaret G. Cobb

Although Debussy had a reputation of being cold and distant, this was just his way of maintaining his privacy. Conductor and composer Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht, or “Cher Inghel“, was one of Debussy’s closest friends. Their friendship was based not only on a mutual respect for each other’s talents, but also on the confiding of intimate secrets. Margaret G. Cobb, the “doyenne of Debussy scholars”, offers an English translation, along with the French originals, of the letters shared by these two friends.

Beauty and Innovation in la machine chinoise

Falla, Debussy, Ravel, Roussel

by Richard E. Mueller

During the first decade of the 20th century, two world fairs and the vogue for Japanese prints brought to a peak the rage for musical exoticism. Debussy and his contemporaries Falla, Ravel, and Roussel composed works laced with exotic coloration, a type of piece he termed la machine chinoise, in their attempts to evoke a Far Eastern soundscape.

Poetic Debussy

A Collection of his Song Texts and Selected Letters

Translated by Richard Miller and edited by Margaret G. Cobb.

Debussy contributed significantly to the renewal of the art song during the fin de siècle. All 92 of the published, and unpublished, melodies Debussy composed are available in this book, revealing how his style was rooted in both music and literature. Almost half of the songs are settings of verses by the great French poets Paul Verlaine, Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Charles d’Orléans.

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