Dissertation Index

Author: McGinness, John, R.

Title: "Playing with Debussy's Jeux: Music and Modernism"

Institution: University of California, Santa Barbara

Begun: September 1992

Completed: September 1996


This dissertation takes the ballet, Jeux, as a point of focus in order to discuss the ongoing evolution of musical modernism. Debussy's music, composed in 1912-13, is now often regarded as "presciently modern"; even, by some accounts, as a nascent "moment form." The inner chapters concentrate on issues related directly to the music itself: references to Stravinsky's Petrushka, the musical expression of Debussy's Symbolist aesthetic, the collaboration between Debussy, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Serge Diaghilev, and the influence of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze's theories of movement on both the music and the dance. (Nijinsky's notes for the choreography are discussed here for the first time.) Framing the presentation of this material, the first and last chapters focus on the remarkably disparate ways in which Jeux's music has been, and continues to be, perceived; of particular concern is the contrast between the early modern (pre-World War I) aesthetic relationship to the musical "object" and the mid-century ("high modern") ideal of aesthetic autonomy.

Although I do not eschew the idea of Debussy's modernity, I posit that the ballet's recent history is related as much to the aesthetic and compositional concerns of both Pierre Boulez and the Darmstadt group (i.e., those responsible for initiating its mid-century reception) as it is to those of Debussy: Jeux, in fact, bears much more in common with the music of other early modernists than is currently believed. While making no claims to finality, the interdisciplinary process used in this study does reveal an aesthetic vision in the early years of the century that is significantly different from the pure formalism of mid-century and that represented by my own late (or post-) modern point of view.

Keywords: Modernism, Aesthetics, Ballets Russes, Eurhythmics, Nijinsky, Diaghilev, Darmstadt, Boulez


I. Playing with Debussy's Jeux: Music and Modernism
II. A Dancer's Angst; A Composer's Reluctance: Nijinsky's Notes for the Ballet, Jeux
III. Debussy sur Stravinsky: Traces of Influence; Questions of Form
IV. New Acquisition; Re-Acquisition: The Museum in Stasis


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