Debussy (1862- 1918)

Vital StatisticsDebussy

Born: August 22, 1862, St. Germain-en-Laye, France 
Died: March 25, 1918, Paris, France
Nationality: French
Genre: 20th Century


Claude Debussy was a French composer and one of the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music. He remains one of the most influential of all composers as he offered a musical alternative to Romanticism and discarded many of the laws of traditional harmony and form. He is considered to be one of the fathers of modern music.

Claude Debussy was born the eldest of five children. Debussy began piano lessons shortly after moving to Paris. His talents soon became evident, and in 1872, at age ten, Debussy entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he spent eleven years. In 1884, he won the Conservatoire’s main composition prize, the Prix de Rome.

From 1888 to 1902 Debussy became deeply involved with Bohemian life in Paris. He joined the café society of Symbolist poets and writers, such as Stéphane Mallarmé. He composed his now-famous orchestral piece Prélude à ‘L’après-midi d’un faune’ based on a Mallarmé poem, at the poet’s request.

In 1902, the success of Debussy’s lone opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, led to the French musical craze called “Debussyism.” Some of his other best known works written in the following years include Clair de lune, La Mer, Pelléas et Mélisande, Nocturnes, Images and Jeux. He also wrote a piano suite for his daughter (nicknamed ChouChou) called Children's Corner. Many of his experimental Preludes For Piano (1910-13) have evocative, visual titles such as Footsteps in the Snow and Sunken Cathedral that suggest Impressionist paintings.

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