Debussy (Hardcover)

A Painter in Sound

By Stephen Walsh

Knopf, 9781524731922, 336pp.

Publication Date: October 23, 2018

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (11/19/2019)
Paperback (4/30/2019)
Hardcover (3/1/2018)

List Price: 28.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


A beautifully written and original biography of one of the greatest and most popular of modern composers--which also deeply investigates his much-loved music.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was that rare creature, a composer who reinvented the language of music without alienating the majority of music lovers. The creator of such classics as La Mer and Clair de Lune, of Pelléas et Mélisande and his magnificent, delicate piano works, he is the modernist everybody loves, the man who drove French music into entirely new regions of beauty and excitement at a time when old traditions--and the overbearing influence of Wagner--threatened to stifle it. As a central figure at the birth of modernism, Debussy's influence on French culture was profound. Yet at the same time his own life was complicated and often troubled by struggles over money, women, and ill-health. Walsh's engagingly original approach is to enrich a lively account of this life with brilliant analyses of Debussy's music: from his first daring breaks with the rules as a Conservatoire student to his mature achievements as the greatest French composer of his time. The Washington Post called Stephen Walsh's Stravinsky "one of the best books ever written about a composer." Debussy is a worthy successor.

About the Author

STEPHEN WALSH is Emeritus Professor of Music at Cardiff University and author of a number of books on music including Musorgsky and His Circle and the prizewinning biography of Igor Stravinsky, selected as one of the ten Books of the Year by The Washington Post. He served for many years as deputy music critic for The Observer and writes reviews for many journals. He lives in Herefordshire, England.

Praise For Debussy: A Painter in Sound

“Outstanding.”—Booklist (starred)
“[Debussy] shines a welcome light on the composer, his music, and his times.”—Library Journal
“Perceptive and authoritative. . . . A sensuous portrait of an iconic composer. . . . A richly detailed life of a modernist master.”—Kirkus (starred)
“Stephen Walsh has followed his magnificent, two-volume Stravinsky biography with this smaller but no less brilliant gem of a book on Debussy. Combining psychological perspicacity about his subject’s life with deep insight into his music, Walsh has made me not only better understand the composer—he has also made me want to re-listen to and re-reflect upon every piece that Debussy ever wrote.”—Harvey Sachs, author of Toscanini: Musician of Conscience
“Stephen Walsh’s Debussy: A Painter in Sound articulates with skill, taste and flashes of humor the evolution of an artistic giant who preferred to leave things ‘half said.’ It is impeccably researched and intellectually engrossing—a thorough and important study of the composer who forever changed the direction of music in our time.”—Stuart Isacoff, author of When the World Stopped to Listen: Van Cliburn’s Cold War Triumph and Its Aftermath
“In Debussy Stephen Walsh has produced a wonderfully detailed biography of a truly ground-breaking composer. This book should be of interest to any Debussy enthusiast.”—John Powell, author of Why You Love Music and How Music Works

“Compelling. . . . Finely tuned. . . . [Walsh] employs a delightfully fluent prose to carry the general reader along.”—Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian
“[A] wonderfully warm, wise and witty book about the greatest French composer of the modern era. As a comprehensive and integrated survey of Debussy’s life and work, it could hardly be bettered.”--Rupert Christiansen, Literary Review
“Walsh is one of our most insightful writers on music, and his judgment always illuminates what it touches. . . . Published to mark the centenary of the composer’s death, Debussy: A Painter in Sound concentrates on what truly matters.”—Philip Hensher, The Spectator
“An enjoyable and impressive achievement. . . . Lively yet learned. . . . Walsh depicts Debussy’s Paris with the same verve and scholarship that he applies to the man.”—The Economist
“A beautifully written study, mercifully free of academic jargon. . . . [Debussy is] a genuine intellectual biography. . . . It’s a tricky thing to bring off, but Walsh is certainly the right man for the job. . . . He gets as close as anyone to catching in words the peculiar quality of Debussy’s harmony. . . . [Walsh] combines delicacy of perception, refinement of expression and quiet persistence, in a way not so far from the great composer himself.”—Ivan Hewett, The Daily Telegraph
“Excellent. . . . [a] lucid and elegant introduction to the French revolutionary.”—Michael Henderson, The Times (UK)
“[An] excellent new biography. . . . [This] fascinating study will help to win [Debussy] new admirers. . . . Walsh is a superb guide to this music.”—Ian Thomson, The Observer