Debussy on Stage

David A Grayson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


[T]he atmosphere of a theatre is made up of contradictions and of unforeseen influences. And one does not submit easily to advice given through incomprehension. DEBUSSY, MAY 1902 For the aspiring young French composer of the nineteenth century, the Prix de Rome represented the capstone of musical study, and winning it signalled the start of a promising career. Claude Debussy, winner of the 1884 competition, later remarked on this popular perception: ‘[A]mong certain people the Prix de Rome has become something of a superstition: to have won it, or not to have won it, answers the question of whether one has any talent or not. Even if it is not infallible, at least it is a useful standard by which the general public can easily judge.' Characteristically, Debussy was ambivalent about the honour, proud to be among its recipients but sceptical of the competence of state-sponsored institutions to recognise, assess or inspire great art. He later recalled the moment he learned that he had won the prize: ‘[M]y heart sank! I had a sudden vision of boredom, and of all the worries that inevitably go together with any form of official recognition. I felt I was no longer free.' First awarded in 1803, the Prix de Rome in musical composition was administered initially by the Institut de France and later by the Académie des Beaux-Arts, a division of the Institut. Although details of the award varied over time, the winner of the Prix received a stipend to subsidise two years of residence at the Villa Medici in Rome, a third year of travel, preferably to Germany or Austria, and a fourth year spent either back in Rome or in France. Each year the laureates were required to submit musical compositions, called envois, as evidence of their progress.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Debussy
EditorsSimon Trezise
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9780511998768
ISBN (Print)0521654785, 9780521652438
StatePublished - 2003


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