Date of Award

Spring 2024

Degree Type



School of Music

Director of Thesis

Dr. Scott Price

Second Reader

Dr. Lynn Kompass


“Nothing is dearer than the grey song where the vague and the precise meet.” Paul Verlaine, “Art poétique”

This thesis compiles information from biographies of Claude Debussy and excerpts from performers, musicologists, music commentators, poets, and art historians, in an attempt to examine Debussy’s work through a well-rounded portrait of the artistic climate in France. This qualitative research thesis begins with a brief summary of Claude Debussy’s life, followed by a portrait of Paris at the turn of the twentieth century. The next section explores the birth of the intertwined movements of Symbolism and Impressionism, their similarities and differences, and why the term Symbolism will be used to refer to the entire movement collectively. In an effort to contextualize these definitions, there is a subsequent breakdown of how Symbolism manifests itself in painting, poetry, and finally, music. Supporting examples of artwork which directly influenced Debussy are referenced and included in the Appendix.

The final component is a specific description of Symbolism in two of Claude Debussy’s compositions, Trois Chansons de Bilitis and Estampes, complete with supporting musical examples. My aim is to clearly demonstrate the salient musical features and performance practices to my audience, making the ideas and connections associated with the intersectionality of Symbolism in the arts approachable for audiences of any musical level. Finally, possibilities for future research and implications for music history are provided.

This thesis is intended to culminate in a lecture recital of Debussy’s music with visual aids and commentary, featuring the solo piano set Estampes and the Trois Chansons de Bilitis for mezzo-soprano and piano. During the performance, extra-auditory aids and artwork will be projected to coincide both with the artistic ideas discussed in the research and the mood evoked by the music.

First Page


Last Page



© 2024, Emma J. Devine