Please note: there may be some adjustments to the teaching arrangements published in the course catalogue for 2020-21. Given current circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic it is anticipated that some usual arrangements for teaching on campus will be modified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff on campus; further adjustments may also be necessary, or beneficial, during the course of the academic year as national requirements relating to management of the pandemic are revised.

Debussy and the 'Belle époque' MUSIC4070

  • Academic Session: 2022-23
  • School: School of Culture and Creative Arts
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Either Semester 1 or Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: Yes

Short Description

This course takes the highly influential music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) as a guiding thread to explore the famously rich culture of the French 'Belle époque' (ca. 1870 to 1918) - an era that saw the birth of many central, contested strands in twentieth- and twenty-first-century society. By presenting varied selections of Debussy's works under a series of topical headings (e.g. 'Painting', 'Literature', 'Politics', 'Popular Culture'), the course will explore and interrogate how it might help to hear the evolution of this complex and idiosyncratic proto-modernist musical language against a convulsive cultural-historical background that also gave rise to similarly influential developments in the hands of many musical and artistic contemporaries.


1 x 2hr session per week (comprising 1x1hr lecture; 1x1hr seminar) over 10 weeks as scheduled on MyCampus. This is one of the Honours options in Music and may not run every year. The options that are running this session are available on MyCampus.

Requirements of Entry

Available to all students fulfilling requirements for Honours entry into Music, and by arrangement to visiting students or students of other Honours programmes who qualify under the University's 25% regulation.

Excluded Courses





Essay (2000 words) - 40%


Portfolio comprising of the following options - each to be the equivalent of an essay of 3000 words - 60%

a) Presentation of 15 minutes [plus 5 mins for questions]

b) Portfolio of analyses and/or stylistic compositions with reflective commentary

Main Assessment In: April/May

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? Not applicable for Honours courses

Reassessments are normally available for all courses, except those which contribute to the Honours classification. For non-Honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions for this course are described below. 

Course Aims

This course will provide the opportunity to:

■ offer a thorough and stimulating critical approach to the work of a pivotal figure in the development of modern music, highlighting key features of the transition between 19th- and 20th-century compositional approaches

■ exemplify and illustrate the importance of the interdisciplinary cross-fertilisation of music with other arts (e.g. poetry, painting, dance, film) in the development of French and international modernism

■ explore and interrogate the elusive relationship between aesthetic developments and key cultural-historical concerns of nascent 'modernity' - notably including terrorist violence; colonialism; contests of race, gender and class; and the rise of new forms of nationalism.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

■ situate and critique any given work of Debussy in light of his own creative development as well as the immediate Parisian cultural context and the wider historiography of nineteenth- and twentieth-century music

■ evaluate the degree to which the internal, 'purely musical' aspects of works produced in the Parisian 'Belle époque' require critical explication informed by broader interdisciplinary and cultural-historical concerns

■ demonstrate a thorough understanding of the range of possible foci - e.g. pitch, rhythm, timbre, texture - for analysis and interpretation of the music of Debussy and leading contemporaries, drawing effectively on relevant theoretical and critical models

■ debate and discuss the degree to which the cultural transformations of the French 'Belle époque', as reflected in the art of Debussy and his peers, anticipate key concerns of modernism and modernity that persist (in various culturally specific variants) to the present day.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.