Until recently Debussy's heritage has been skewed by our lack of knowledge of his youthful compositions. The revelation of Diane au bois is an important step forward in rebalancing our knowledge of his mature work with his youthful preoccupations. However, like many of Debussy's works, its genre is too readily defined as a 'cantata'. Examination of the sources and context of Banville's 'comédie' reveals the work as potentially dramatic, an 'acte en vers' which in turn inspired a tribute in a similar form by Stéphane Mallarmé.
This lecture examines some musical aspects of Diane au bois and the ways in which its dramatic form was developed in subsequent works, particularly the two operas Rodrigue et Chimène and Pelléas. It also adds some observations to the discussion of its relationship to Debussy's Faune and to the wider context of Debussy's Hellenistic interests, too often overshadowed by the umbrella terms 'Impressionism' and 'Symbolism'.
Professor Richard Langham Smith is a musicologist who has written on Debussy and contemporary French music in general. He read music at the University of York, he then pursued further study on the harpsichord and Baroque performance practice at the Amsterdam Conservatory. He has taught at the University of Lancaster, City University, the University of Exeter, and the Open University. Currently, he is Head of the Graduate School at the Royal College of Music, London. He was the Visiting Gresham Professor of Music in 2003.