This article discusses the relationship of musical climax and orgasm by considering Claude Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse, a piano piece completed in the summer of 1904, soon after he started a love affair with Emma Bardac. By exploring the genesis of the piece and discussing musicological, sexological, narratological, and historical literature, it proposes a musical analysis based on the assumption that music is more likely to represent a sexual experience when its intensity curve and pacing scenarios have an analogic relation with those of sex. Biographical issues are at stake. Debussy’s marriage to Emma Bardac in 1908 has often been seen as resulting from social ambition, rather than from love and desire. Such a negative image, born in the aftermath of the Dreyfus Affair, returned in later narratives influenced by anti-Semitic prejudice. Yet, the story of L’isle joyeuse shows the intensity of their erotic relationship.


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pp. 24-60
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