Debussy composed eight sets of three songs between 1891 and 1913. Containing almost all the mélodies of these years, the series tracks his development from post-Wagnerian maturity to ‘late’ style. While we have several fine readings of individual songs, the distinctive ‘triptych’ form of the Debussyan ‘song cycle’ has received little analytical attention.
In this lecture, Dr Code takes a fresh look at the various kinds of textual and musical unity on view in this distinctly Debussyan form. He begins with a contextual glance into visual culture of the time, which saw a striking revival of interest in painted and printed triptychs. Then, in testing how such ‘painterly’ orientation can qualify our sense of multi-part literary and musical form, he outlines an allegorical reading of Debussy’s whole series of song triptychs as an evolving response to the pressures of modernist music historiography.
David J. Code is Lecturer in Music at the University of Glasgow. Previously, he taught at Stanford on a Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellowship, and at Bishop’s University in Quebec. His articles on Debussy, Mallarmé and Stravinsky have appeared in leading journals including JAMS and Representations; he recently contributed a biography of Debussy to the Reaktion Press ‘Critical Lives’ series on pivotal figures of the modern period. Recently, alongside work on a second Debussy monograph, he has also been publishing articles on the music in the films of Stanley Kubrick.