A biography of Debussy explores his genius and flaws

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Debussy: A Painter in Sound. By Stephen Walsh. Faber and Faber; 368 pages; £20. To be published in America by Knopf in October; $28.95.

CLAUDE DEBUSSY was a rarity: an avant-garde composer who was also popular. The musical establishment of his day reviled him, but he delighted audiences because he always strove to make his music beautiful, striking just the right balance between the novel and the familiar. He remains much loved. Some of his most famous pieces—“Clair de Lune”, “Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune”, “La Mer” and “Pelléas et Mélisande”, his only completed opera—ring a bell with many people who are not classical-music buffs.

The centenary of Debussy’s death falls on March 25th. As Stephen Walsh recounts in his lively yet learned new biography, he was born in 1862 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, outside Paris, the eldest of five children. His father was a failed shopkeeper and his mother a…Continue reading

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