Claude Debussy

Who was Debussy?

Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy (1862–1918) was a 20th-century French composer and one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music. 

Life and Music

  • Claude Debussy was born on the 22nd August 1862 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France.
  • In 1880, Tchaikovsky commented on one of Debussy's early pieces: "It is a very pretty piece, but it is much too short. Not a single idea is expressed fully, the form is terribly shriveled, and it lacks unity."
  • It was not until 1894, aged 32, that Debussy completed the first piece to truly declare his independence of thought: Prelude a l'Apres-midi d'un Faune, a highly innovative piece inspired by a poem of Stephane Mallarmé.
  • After his first successes, Debussy began serious work on his opera Pelleas et Melisande (completed in 1902) and the three orchestral Nocturnes (completed in 1899).
  • Debussy entered a new creative phase in 1903 with La Mer, completed while staying in Eastbourne, where he observed that "the sea behaves with British politeness".
  • The success of Pelleas et Melisande's long-delayed premiere in 1902 made Debussy a celebrity. He subsequently began a passionate affair with Emma Bardac, one-time mistress of Gabriel Faure, whereupon his wife unsuccessfully attempted to shoot herself.
  • In 1914, just as he was at the height of his powers, Debussy discovered he had cancer. An operation left him so debilitated that he composed nothing for over a year.
  • Before his death on March 25th 1918 in Paris, he completed one final masterwork, the Violin Sonata.

Did you know?

Debussy's obvious talent for the piano led to his winning a place at the junior department of the Paris Conservatoire in 1872 when he was only 10 years old.

Guides

Music

Claude Debussy Watch Debussy - Arabesques

Early impressionist standards from the French piano master, but there's more to Debussy's Deux Arabesques than meets the eye - just ask Alicia Keys

Debussy Watch Debussy - Préludes

All the piano greats completed a set of Preludes for solo piano, but why is Debussy's that little bit different?

News

Album reviews

Debussy: 24 Preludes Debussy: 24 Preludes

This week John Brunning's featured album is Debussy: 24 Preludes performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Top Debussy Pieces

Debussy Recently Played