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Denis Herlin: “Debussy Refused in General to Be a Performer, Even Throughout His Career as a Pianist”


This interview delves into the intricate world of Debussy research with the esteemed musician and scholar, Denis Herlin. Drawing on his extensive experience as a Debussy researcher, Herlin discusses his journey from a Ph.D. on the Nocturnes to heading the revision of Debussy’s Complete Works. The conversation encompasses the discovery of new copies, Debussy’s correspondences, and upcoming projects, notably the eagerly awaited edition of Pelléas et Mélisande’s full orchestral score.

A focal point of the discussion is Debussy’s enigmatic persona as a pianist. Herlin unravels the paradox of Debussy’s pianistic talent, marked by testimonials of his exceptional touch and control, yet overshadowed by his failure to graduate from the Paris Conservatoire. Insights into Debussy’s left-handedness and interactions with notable figures like Liszt and Madame Mauté de Fleurville add layers to this narrative.

The conversation also explores Debussy’s fascination with Chopin, revealed through his extensive revisions of Chopin’s works during World War I. Herlin sheds light on the purpose behind Debussy’s Études and their connection to the subtleties of French tradition. The interview delves into Debussy’s pianos, the impact of Indonesian gamelan on his style, and the unique story behind his final piano piece, Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon.

The interview concludes with an exploration of the significance of Debussy’s suggestive titles, touching on the evolution of his approach from emphasizing titles at the beginning of compositions to the deliberate ambiguity marked by ellipses in the Préludes. Throughout the discussion, Denis Herlin provides valuable insights into Debussy’s multifaceted personality as a pianist, composer, and meticulous reviser of his own and others’ works.

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ISSN: 2792-8349

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International Journal of Music