Debussy’s Impressionism interrogated

Smith, R. L. (2024) Debussy’s Impressionism interrogated. In: Debussy in Context. Composers in Context . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 59-68. ISBN 9781108472067 (hardback) 9781108561334 (e-book)


The arts were loosely defined by a plethora of ‘-isms’ in the second half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. None is more often associated with Debussy than Impressionism. Even recent scholarship is still disposed to position him as an Impressionist composer. Whilst much work has been done to disentangle Debussy from the tag and align him in relation to, among others, Hellenistic paintings (around the time of the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune [it.]), Symbolist painting, and the English Pre-Raphaelites, it is important to understand what has been intended by the term ‘musical Impressionism’, how it came to be associated with Debussy, and his usually hostile response to being thus categorised.

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