Was Debussy the first modern composer?

Posted on: March 7, 2018

“Although it was Debussy’s orchestral work ‘Prélude à L’Après-midi d’un Faune’ that Pierre Boulez described as ‘the beginning of modern music,’ it was always at the piano where his revolutionary new approach to form and timbre developed,” writes pianist Stephen Hough in Monday’s (3/5) New York Times. “Debussy’s discovery of new sounds at the piano is directly related to the physiology of hands on keyboard. It is impossible to conceive of most of Debussy’s piano music being written at a desk, or outdoors … When assessing a composer’s place in history, there’s always the question as to whether he or she leans backward or forward. But despite the opinion of Elliott Carter that Debussy ‘settled the technical direction of contemporary music,’ and despite the impossibility of the existence of the piano music of modernists such as Messiaen or Ligeti without him, I think the secret to playing Debussy’s music lies in its Chopinist roots … Toro Takemitsu, American Minimalists and New Age Muzak-they all owe Debussy virtual royalties. The first ‘modern’ composer, a hundred years after his death, vibrates afresh in every corner of the globe.” The article includes sound clips, played by Hough and others, of Debussy scores.

Posted March 7, 2018