Artistic labels are tricky little things because they trap artists in a kind of musical amber with others that we deem just similar enough. The result? It becomes all the more difficult to look at a composer’s body of work individually. And yet. Those same labels can be a useful tool in discovering new music and expanding your palette.
Steve Reich, who’s never without the calling card of “minimalist” composer, has a terrific joke about this very issue:
“We’re taking a trip to Paris, and once we land we’re getting in a cab so that we can go to the grave of Claude Debussy. And we’re going to dig him up and ask him the question: ‘Excuse me, sir. Are you an impressionist?’ To which Debussy will simply reply, ‘Merde,’ and go back to sleep.”
It’s true. Debussy despised the term “impressionist.” To a lesser extent, so did his contemporary Maurice Ravel. But ironically, they are the two names most consistently dropped whenever there’s a discussion about “musical impressionism.” It’s very possible — even probable — that the composers we’ve highlighted on this list would also balk at the label. Mr. Reich again, in an interview with Rebecca Y. Kim for Current Musicology: “Anybody who’s interested in French Impressionism is interested in how different Debussy and Ravel and Satie are different.”
If it helps, it might be better to think of this less as of a list of “impressionist composers” and more of a list of “composers who were no stranger to what we call impressionist conventions.” But you can only fit so many characters into a headline.
Article by: James Bennett, II