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Reviewed by:
  • Debussy's Resonance ed. by François de Médicis and Steven Huebner
  • Deborah Mawer
Debussy's Resonance. Ed. by François de Médicis and Steven Huebner. Pp. xiv + 625. Eastman Studies in Music. (University of Rochester Press, Rochester, NY, and Woodbridge, 2018. £95. ISBN 978-1-58046525-0.)

What of the post-centennial state of Debussy research? In 2018, it became almost an essential badge of honour to stage an international Debussy conference, symposium, orchestral concert series, or preferably some elaborate combination thereof. To fail to do so was likely to be construed an abnegation of scholarly duty, especially within French musicological circles. Thus, around the springtime centennial commemoration of Debussy's death, we were showered with many diverse events across the United Kingdom, as well as in France and North America.

A notable, highly successful fixture took place as a large, three-day conference hosted jointly by the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and the University of Glasgow, linked by means of the now infamous 'Debussy bus', which we sincerely hoped would not imperil a generation of Debussy scholars through mishap on the M6 motorway. My own institution proved not immune and hosted its Debussy Festival in collaboration with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in March 2018. Debussy's Resonance, the volume under review, also results from our musicological preoccupation with anniversaries—whereby, through use of a suitable multiplier at one end or the other, it is usually possible to construct a plausible arithmetical raison d'être—in this instance the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth in 2012. Hence, the initially perplexing title of Richard Langham Smith's opening contribution: 'Debussy Fifty Years Later: Has the Barrel Run Dry?' (p. 19).

Debussy's Resonance is a substantial edited volume of over 600 pages, with its component chapters divided into five distinct parts. But before we explore its design and themes in greater detail, there is the matter of the title itself. Immediately the use of the term resonance(s) suggests that this is a book primarily concerned with the impact of Debussy upon twentieth-century and subsequent musical culture(s)—to use an alternative image, the extended ripples from a stone thrown into a lake; perhaps a companion or sequel to Matthew Brown's inspired Debussy Redux: The Impact of his Music on Popular Culture (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2012).

Appearances can, however, be a little deceptive: there is no cultural coverage of other than 'classical' music here. This catchy title is not fully defined or theorized by the editors in the Introduction (pp. 1—15); the book is about research on, and historiography of, Debussy that emerged from a Montreal conference on 'Claude Debussy's Legacy' ('L'Héritage de Claude Debussy'): 'How does all this research resonate with us, and with Debussy's music?' (p. 2). In other words, it is in the tradition of, and represents a postmillennial successor to, Debussy Studies, as edited by Richard Langham Smith (Cambridge, 1997).

Having made this point and established what the book is not, it is only fair that one focuses on the main credentials of Debussy's Resonance. From some forty-three original conference papers, a resulting twenty chapters have been selected and carefully developed. Appropriately, the opening portion discusses Debussy historiography (following on from the short survey offered in the editors' Introduction) and editorial issues; the second and largest section comprises five essays that deal with questions of style and genre, including those of the editors, François de Médicis and Steven Huebner, based around a Wagnerian locus.

Meanwhile, the central core is broadly directed by 'History and Hermeneutics', with wide-ranging consideration of Debussy's connections with Japanese prints, the waltz, Mallarmé and language, as well as further discussion of Pelléas. Arguably, one of the most interesting sections is the fourth on theoretical issues, which incorporates analytical matters of counterpoint, motivic harmony, pitch-classes, and the notion of 'games' (Jeux). Finally, the brief of the fifth part, crucial in relation to perceptions of 'resonance', is 'Performance and Reception', embracing piano rolls from 1912 (Jocelyn Ho) and the pianistic legacy of the problematic figure Marius-François...


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