Everything the groundbreaking composer of Pelleas et Melisande and La Mer ever wrote or said for publication about ""the great Comforter""--in chronological order, introduced and footnoted to the hilt, and probably not what you think. Without a single bar-by-bar exegesis and without longwinded philosophizing, these quicksilver reviews, think pieces, and reluctantly-given interviews capture the intermission squabbles and salon music chatter of fin de siecle and pre-War Paris. The manner is offhand, iconoclastic, and utterly unprofessorial. On Grieg: ""Has anyone noticed how awful people from the North become when they try to be Mediterranean?"" On Wagner: ""A beautiful sunset who has been mistaken for a sunrise."" A morbid song cycle ""seemed to inhabit keys where it was raining."" A second-rate composer: ""Why does he feel obliged to write concertos? Has he made some kind of vow?"" Though Debussy can be dead serious (decrying France's Wagnerian betrayal of its authentic, back-to-Rameau musical heritage or calling for the liberating effects of ""music in the open air""), his edgy humor and childlike reactions are what win us over. Enthusiasms: Moussorgsky, Paul Dukas, and the music hall. Betes-noires: Saint-Saens, the Ring (his plot summaries are worthy of Anna Russell), and the Paris Opera's stodgy repertory. Translator-editor R. L. Smith triumphs in both capacities; he includes healthy chunks of young Colette's chirpy music reviews (she shared duties with the composer at the newspaper Gil Blas) as well, as more scholarly cross-references. Debussy: prophetic, stimulating, and a joyous reprimand to all pedants in his time and ours.