Author (Your Name)

Jeffrey V. Smith, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. Music Dept.


George Maier

Second Advisor

Thomas R. Higgins


Debussy was labelled an "impressionist" when his works were first performed. This classification generally resulted from criticism that his works were formless, that his harmonies were "irrational" (i.e., nonconformist), and that his compositional intent was somehow vague. Moreover, the criticism drew a parallel between this conception of Debussy's aesthetic and that of the impressionist painters, who were also thought to be vague in their presentation of forms. This sort of commentary is both superficial and insupportable. All attempts to align his aesthetic with that of the impressionist painters are contradicted by close examination of Debussy's works. Such examination, accomplished largely through thematic analysis, reveals that his forms are clearly organized, characterized by continuous development of germinal thematic material. His harmonies and orchestral combinations reveal a carefully worked out formal scheme. Far from being an impressionist, Debussy was an innovator, seeking his own form of personal expression.


Claude Debussy, impressionist movement, impressionism


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