Debussy's Late Style

Debussy's Late Style

Marianne Wheeldon
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 11/12/2008
Format: Hardback 7 b&w illus., 60 music exx.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35239-2
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Debussy's Late Style explores Claude Debussy's musical responses to World War I. This period of composition encompasses the duration of the war and the last four years of Debussy's life. The works that emerged during this time reflect both wartime events and the composer's self-conscious desire to define his own musical legacy as he felt his life nearing its end. Debussy's complete wartime compositions comprise a small but significant body of works, some little known and some now acknowledged to be among the masterpieces of his career. These include the Berceuse héroïque, En Blanc et noir, the Douze Études, the "Noël des enfants qui n'ont plus de maisons," and the three instrumental sonatas (the Cello Sonata; the Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp; and the Violin Sonata). Through music analysis, musicology, and cultural history, this study offers interpretive readings of Debussy's late works, focusing in particular on how they reflect the unique cultural milieu of wartime Paris.

Author Bio

Marianne Wheeldon is Associate Professor of Music Theory at The University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests include the late works of Claude Debussy, musical culture in fin-de-siècle Paris, and Schenkerian analysis.


“Through a combination of music analysis, musicology, and cultural history, this study offers interpretive readings of Debussy's late works, focusing in particular on how they reflect the unique cultural milieu of Paris during the First World War. ”

“In his later years Debussy surprised contemporaries by eschewing theatrical and picturesque music for the 'pure' traditions of the etude and the sonata. . . . Marianne Wheeldon . . . shows how Debussy put a distinctly French stamp on these works, taking clues from Couperin, Chopin, and Franck. The result is a model of interdisciplinary scholarship.”
 — Jann Pasler, University of California, San Diego

“[Wheeldon] writes in a lively style and has an excellent way of linking the various contexts with detailed perusal of the music itself. . . . a fertile and novel line of approach.”
 — Richard Langham Smith, Chevalier de l'ordre des arts et des lettres; Arnold Kettle Distinguished Scholar in Music, Open Uni

“This is a thorough review of Claude Debussy's later works . . . Wheeldon's prose [is] easy to read and clearly organized.May 2009”
 — Choice

“Debussy’s Late Style is truly multidimensional as it successfully maps the semiotic goals and cultural terrain of Debussy’s final works. . . . Wheeldon’s study is compelling in the way that it assesses Debussy’s negotiation of his historical and political moment with an acute awareness of historical context, structural strategy, and intertextual correspondences. Her book should open up new avenues of inquiry into the representational goals of Debussy’s music and the continuous transformation of his postwar reputation.”
 — Twentieth-Century Music

“The overarching lesson of Debussy’s Late Style is that today, especially, we should be delighted but certainly not puzzled by the rich variety of Debussy’s invention during his last years. 66.2 Dec. 2009”
 — Notes

“Debussy’s Late Style reads very easily, with elegant turns of phrase, clearly explained analyses, and generous use of examples. Readers will discover many insights that draw instructive parallels among the late works and lines of influence within them . . . all of which open new windows to comprehending Debussy’s late style. Although, when all is said, these works remain atypical of the composer (at least to some degree), Marianne Wheeldon’s book not only shows us why but gives us new ways to understand and appreciate them.”
 — Music Reference Services Quarterly

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Table of Contents


1. Defining Debussy's Late Style
2. Public and Private: The Wartime Occasional Pieces
3. Compositional Personae in the Piano Etudes
4. Les Sonates Cycliques
5. Tombeau de Claude Debussy