Debussy and Wagner

Debussy and Wagner -Dr. David Code

Monday 14th October at 18.30


Like many leading cultural figures of his generation, the French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) went through a phase of passionate wagnérisme, during which he undertook the so-called ‘pilgrimage’ to Bayreuth. His struggle to ‘work through’ this towering musical influence left clear traces in the operatic realm (e.g. Pelléas et Mélisande, 1902), but also unfolded in more esoteric ways – notably into the songs (mélodies) he wrote on the poetry by ‘symbolist’ contemporaries. Opening a window on the fin-de-siècle wagnériste moment, this talk traces some few of those esoteric traces to show how Debussy drew inspiration from poetry to help him craft an influential modern compositional voice against a near-overpowering Romantic background.

David J. Code is Reader in Music at the University of Glasgow. Previously, he taught at Stanford University, on a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, and at Bishop’s University in Québec. His articles on Mallarmé, Debussy, and Stravinsky have appeared in many leading journals, and he contributed a biography of Debussy to the Reakion Press ‘Critical Lives’ series on influential figures in aesthetic modernism. In recent years, he has also published on the music in the films of Stanley Kubrick.