You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Debussy: A Painter in Sound

What does it mean to be a classical radical?

You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Claude Debussy (1862-1918), one of the most influential composers in the Western canon, lived his life as the gentle radical. Musical radicalism brings to mind aggressive, almost violent music, whether that be the Clash or Beethoven. "Cutting edge" describes insurgent art and ideas viscerally, and while Debussy remains revolutionary, his edges are round and delicate, quiet and beautiful. Consider him and Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) as the impressionists of music composition. Stephen Walsh's engaging and thorough book isn't a David McCullough-style biography, where the characters and story sweep the narrative along. Instead, Debussy: A Painter in Sound offers a chronological analysis of its subject's output with historical and biographical context. Walsh proves less interested in the details of an affair the young composer had and more invested in the impact it had on his evolving musical style. On the spectrum from general reader to specialist, this book leans to the specialist direction but remains accessible to motivated general readers. A passion for Debussy, or at least for classical music, counts as a requirement either way. In the age of streaming services, a reader can listen instantly to any musical reference made, and this aids immensely in understanding the meaning of the text. Given that, Walsh's biography will become a valuable companion to deep listening.

Debussy: A Painter in Sound

by Stephen Walsh
Knopf, 336 pp., $28.95

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Claude Debussy
'The Fall of the House of Usher': When Debussy was a Poe boy
'The Fall of the House of Usher': When Debussy was a Poe boy
With UT's hosting of the Debussy International Congress comes a Halloween treat: an operatic adaptation based on Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Fall of the House of Usher'

Barry Pineo, Oct. 27, 2006

More Music Reviews
<i>Me & Mr. Cigar</i>
Me & Mr. Cigar
Butthole Surfers singer Gibby Haynes debuts a deeply weird and wonderful young adult novel.

Alyssa Quiles, Feb. 21, 2020

Revenge of the She-Punks
Revenge of the She-Punks

Rachel Rascoe, Dec. 6, 2019

More by Graham Reynolds
Wasota Vegan Paradise Is Simple, Savory, Life-Sustaining
Wasota Vegan Paradise Is Simple, Savory, Life-Sustaining
Two local vegans, Lawrence Eguakun and Graham Reynolds, talk meatless meals and The Movement

July 31, 2020

Read My Lips
Words Without Music: A Memoir
Famed Austin composer appraises the autobiography of Philip Glass, father of the modern classical avant-garde

May 29, 2015


Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle