Debussy: Music Without A Destination

Matthew Aucoin writes: ‘The subjects of this year’s two most prominent classical-music anniversaries could hardly be more different from each other. One hundred years ago this past August 22, Achille-Claude Debussy died in Paris. Three days later, in less glamorous Lawrence, Massachusetts, Leonard Bernstein was born. For listeners worldwide, each has become a kind of metonym for his time and place: Debussy for the languorous refinement of the French fin de siècle; Bernstein for the brash, brassy extroversion of mid-twentieth-century America. In life, Debussy was an elusive personality, feline and withdrawn; he seems to have been unscrupulous in his love life and not entirely trustworthy in financial matters. His mature music, however, bears the stamp of an unmistakable sensibility: sensual, tender, alternately delicate and lush, it reveals a wizardly gift for draining familiar tonal harmonies of their usual stability and suspending them gorgeously in midair.’

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