Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




The purpose of this study is to determine the extent to which Debussy was influenced by the Symbolist poets. In order to accomplish this objective, biographical details have been incorporated with the findings that Debussy entered the literary milieu early in his life and became directly involved with the new developments taking place in literature. The Symbolist aesthetic is explained first in terms of the unifying characteristics tying the movement together and then in terms of the specific techniques used by the poets to realize their ideals. A similar approach is used to analyze Debussy’s aesthetic; there is a discussion of his theories concerning music whereupon we see specific compositional devices reflecting his ideas. Parallels and comparisons are drawn showing the affinities between Debussy's aesthetic and that of the Symbolist poets. Following this is a more detailed analysis of six of Debussy's piano pieces: "La Danse de Puck," "Les Collines d'Anacapri," "La Cathedrale engloutie," "Jardins sous la pluie," "Reflets dans l'eau," and "Des pas sur la neige." These works further illustrate the manifestation of Symbolist characteristics in Debussy's music.

Because he contributed new ideas and initiated novel compositional techniques, Debussy holds a unique place in music history. However, Debussy's contributions to music, if they are to be fully understood, must be; looked at in light of the changes taking place in the artistic world at the time, particularly in the literary realm. It is clear that the Symbolist movement had a definite influence on the crystallization of Debussy's aesthetic, for Symbolist ideals are strongly evident in his music.