Emma and Claude Debussy: The Biography of a Relationship [Hardback]

Gillian Opstad(Author)

ISBN: 9781783276585 | Published by: Boydell Press | Year of Publication: 2022 | 408p, H9.25 x W6.25, 35 b/w.
Status: Not Yet Published - Available for pre-order

Emma and Claude Debussy


The singer Emma Bardac (1862-1934) has often been presented as a woman who ensnared Claude Debussy (1862-1918) because she wanted to be associated with his fame and to live a life of luxury. Indeed, in many biographies and composer-related studies of Debussy, the only mentions that she receives are brief and derogatory. Here Emma Bardac and her relationship with the composer take centre stage. The book traces Emma's Jewish ancestry and her background, the significant role of her wealthy uncle Osiris, her marriage at seventeen to the wealthy Jewish banker Sigismond Bardac, her affair with Gabriel Fauré and her liaison with and subsequent marriage to Debussy. As Gillian Opstad shows, the pressure and stifling effects of domestic life on Debussy's attitude to his composing were considerable. The financial consequences of their partnership were disastrous, and their circle of close friends was small. Emma suffered physically and mentally from the tensions of the marriage, particularly money worries, and the possibility that Debussy was attracted to her older daughter. She considered divorce but supported him through his deepest depression and during the First World War until he succumbed to cancer in 1918. After Debussy's death, Emma felt driven both on his behalf and for financial reasons to further performances of the composer's works and provoked the annoyance of other musicians by having early compositions resurrected, completed and performed. In this engagingly written biography, Gillian Opstad brings to light little-known facts about Emma's background and family, advances new insights into her relationship with Debussy, and provides a glimpse of an early twentieth-century Parisian milieu that experienced wide-spread antisemitism.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Abbreviations and note

Part One. Emma: Wife, Mother, Lover

1) Emma's ancestry and background
2) Emma's relationship with Gabriel Fauré
3) Debussy's life until 1902
4) Emma meets Debussy. 1899 - August 1904
5) August 1904 - August 1905. Pourville and Eastbourne.
6) August 1905 - December 1906. Life in the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne
7) 1907. Stagnation
8) 1908. Marriage and an ivory tower
9) 1909. Illness and depression
10) 1910. Floods and despair
11) 1911. A marriage and Le martyre
12) 1912. Confined to home
13) 1913. Troubles and travels
14) 1914. The approach of war
15) 1915. Patriotism and love awakened
16) 1916. Debussy's treatment and mounting concerns
17) 1917 - April 1918. The last summer

Part Two. Emma the Widow

18) April 1918 - Dec. 1918. Emma's mission
19) 1919. Tragedy and commemoration
20) 1920-1921. Disappointments and disputes
21) 1922-1923. Fiascos and controversies
22) 1924-1927. Friends and enemies
23) 1928-1931. Litigation and invective
24) 1932-1934. The final struggle
25) Epilogue

Select Bibliography

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