Claude Debussy
Overview
 
Claude-Achille Debussy (klod aʃil dəbysi) (22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918) was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel
Maurice Ravel
Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects...

, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music
Impressionist music
Impressionism in music was a tendency in European classical music, mainly in France, which appeared in the late nineteenth century and continued into the middle of the twentieth century. Similarly to its precursor in the visual arts, musical impressionism focuses on a suggestion and an atmosphere...

, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions. Debussy is among the most important of all French composers, and a central figure in European music of the turn of the 20th century.
Quotations

The colour of my soul is iron-grey and sad bats wheel about the steeple of my dreams.

Letter to Ernest Chausson|Ernest Chausson (1894)

Collect impressions. Don’t be in a hurry to write them down. Because that’s something music can do better than painting: it can centralise variations of colour and light within a single picture — a truth generally ignored, obvious as it is.

Debussy in a letter to his pupil Raoul Bardac (1906)

Every sound perceived by the acute ear in the rhythm of the world about us can be represented musically. Some people wish above all to conform to the rules, I wish only to render what I can hear.

Statement of 1910, as quoted in Debussy on Music (1977) edited and translated by Françoise Lesure and Richard Langham Smith, p. 243

The attraction of the virtuoso for the public is very like that of the circus for the crowd. There is always the hope that something dangerous may happen.

As quoted in Music in the Modern World (1948) by Rollo Hugh Myers, p. 99

Music should humbly seek to please; within these limits great beauty may perhaps be found. Extreme complication is contrary to art. Beauty must appeal to the senses, must provide us with immediate enjoyment, must impress us or insinuate itself into us without any effort on our part.

Quoted in French Music : From the Death of Berlioz to the Death of Fauré (1951) by Martin Cooper, p. 136, and in Debussy and Wagner (1979) by Robin Holloway, p. 207

Encyclopedia
Claude-Achille Debussy (klod aʃil dəbysi) (22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918) was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel
Maurice Ravel
Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects...

, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music
Impressionist music
Impressionism in music was a tendency in European classical music, mainly in France, which appeared in the late nineteenth century and continued into the middle of the twentieth century. Similarly to its precursor in the visual arts, musical impressionism focuses on a suggestion and an atmosphere...

, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions. Debussy is among the most important of all French composers, and a central figure in European music of the turn of the 20th century. He was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1903.

His music is noted for its sensory component and for not often forming around one key or pitch. Often Debussy's work reflected the activities or turbulence in his own life. His music virtually defines the transition from late-Romantic music
Romantic music
Romantic music or music in the Romantic Period is a musicological and artistic term referring to a particular period, theory, compositional practice, and canon in Western music history, from 1810 to 1900....

 to 20th century modernist music
Modernism (music)
Modernism in music is characterized by a desire for or belief in progress and science, surrealism, anti-romanticism, political advocacy, general intellectualism, and/or a breaking with the past or common practice.- Defining musical modernism :...

. In French literary circles, the style of this period was known as symbolism
Symbolism (arts)
Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style had its beginnings with the publication Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire...

, a movement that directly inspired Debussy both as a composer and as an active cultural participant.

Early life and studies

Claude Debussy was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a commune in the Yvelines department in the Île-de-France in north-central France. It is located in the western suburbs of Paris from the centre.Inhabitants are called Saint-Germanois...

, France, 22 August 1862, the eldest of five children. His father, Manuel-Achille Debussy, owned a shop where he sold china and crockery, and his mother, Victorine Manoury Debussy, was a seamstress. The family moved to Paris in 1867, but in 1870 Debussy's pregnant mother sought refuge from the Franco-Prussian war with a paternal aunt of Claude's in Cannes
Cannes
Cannes is one of the best-known cities of the French Riviera, a busy tourist destination and host of the annual Cannes Film Festival. It is a Commune of France in the Alpes-Maritimes department....

. Debussy began piano lessons there at the age of seven years with an elderly Italian violinist named Cerutti; his lessons were paid for by his aunt. In 1871 he drew the attention of Marie Mauté de Fleurville, who claimed to have been a pupil of Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric François Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist. He is considered one of the great masters of Romantic music and has been called "the poet of the piano"....

. Debussy always believed her, although there is no independent evidence of her claim. His talents soon became evident, and in 1872, at age ten, Debussy entered the Paris Conservatoire
Conservatoire de Paris
The Conservatoire de Paris is a college of music and dance founded in 1795, now situated in the avenue Jean Jaurès in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, France...

, where he spent eleven years. During his time there he studied composition with Ernest Guiraud
Ernest Guiraud
Ernest Guiraud was a French composer and music teacher born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is best known for writing the traditional orchestral recitatives used for Bizet's opera Carmen and for Offenbach's opera Les contes d'Hoffmann .- Biography :Guiraud began his schooling in Louisiana under the...

, music history/theory with Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray
Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray
Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray was a French Breton composer, pianist, and professor of music history/theory at the Conservatoire de Paris as well as a Prix de Rome laureate. He was born at Nantes and died at Vernouillet, near Dreux...

, harmony with Émile Durand
Émile Durand
Émile Durand was a French musical theorist, teacher and composer. He was better known for his theoretical writings than for his compositions.-Biography:...

, piano with Antoine François Marmontel
Antoine François Marmontel
Antoine François Marmontel was a French pianist, teacher and musicographer.Marmontel entered the Paris Conservatory in 1827. His teachers were Pierre Zimmerman in pianoforte, Victor Dourlen in harmony, Jacques Fromental Halévy in fugue and Jean-François Le Sueur in composition...

, organ with César Franck
César Franck
César-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert Franck was a composer, pianist, organist, and music teacher who worked in Paris during his adult life....

, and solfège
Solfege
In music, solfège is a pedagogical solmization technique for the teaching of sight-singing in which each note of the score is sung to a special syllable, called a solfège syllable...

 with Albert Lavignac
Albert Lavignac
Albert Lavignac was a French music scholar, known for his essays on theory, and a minor composer.-Biography:Lavignac was borin in Paris and studied with Antoine François Marmontel, François Benoist and Ambroise Thomas at the Conservatoire de Paris, where later he taught harmony...

, as well as other significant figures of the era. He also became a lifelong friend of fellow student and noted pianist Isidor Philipp
Isidor Philipp
Isidor Philipp was a French pianist, composer, and distinguished pedagogue of Hungarian descent. He was born in Budapest and died in Paris.-Biography:...

. After Debussy's death, many pianists sought out Philipp for advice on playing his pieces.

From the start, though clearly talented, Debussy was argumentative and experimental. He challenged the rigid teaching of the Academy, favoring instead dissonances and intervals that were frowned upon. Like Georges Bizet
Georges Bizet
Georges Bizet formally Alexandre César Léopold Bizet, was a French composer, mainly of operas. In a career cut short by his early death, he achieved few successes before his final work, Carmen, became one of the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertory.During a...

, he was a brilliant pianist and an outstanding sight reader, who could have had a professional career as such had he so wished. The pieces he played in public at this time included sonata movements by Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

, Schumann
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

 and Weber
Carl Maria von Weber
Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber was a German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school....

; and Chopin – the Ballade No. 2, a movement from the Piano Concerto No. 1
Piano Concerto No. 1 (Chopin)
The Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11, is a piano concerto written by Frédéric Chopin in 1830. It was first performed on 11 October of that year, in Warsaw, with the composer as soloist, during one of his "farewell" concerts before leaving Poland....

, and the Allegro de concert
Allegro de Concert (Chopin)
Frédéric Chopin’s Allegro de concert, Op. 46, is a piece for piano, published in November 1841. It is in one movement and takes between 13 and 15 minutes to play. The principal themes are bold and expressive...

, a relatively little-known piece but one requiring an advanced technique (it was originally intended to be the opening movement of a third piano concerto).

During the summers of 1880, 1881, and 1882 Debussy accompanied the wealthy patroness of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

, Nadezhda von Meck
Nadezhda von Meck
Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck was a Russian businesswoman, who is best known today for her artistic relationship with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. She supported him financially for 13 years, enabling him to devote himself full-time to composition, but she stipulated that they were never to meet. ...

, as she traveled with her family in Europe and Russia. The young composer's many musical activities during these vacations included playing four-hand pieces with von Meck at the piano, giving her children music lessons, and performing in private concerts with some of her musician friends. Despite von Meck's closeness with Tchaikovsky, the Russian master appears to have had little or no effect on Debussy. In September 1880 she sent Debussy's Danse bohémienne for Tchaikovsky's perusal. A month later Tchaikovsky wrote back to her, "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". Debussy did not publish the piece; the manuscript remained in the von Meck family, and it was sold to B. Schott's Sohne in Mainz, and published by them in 1932. A greater influence was Debussy's close friendship with Madame Vasnier, a singer he met when he began working as an accompanist to earn some money. She and her husband gave Debussy emotional and professional support. Monsieur Vasnier introduced him to the writings of influential French writers of the time, which gave rise to his first songs, settings of poems by Paul Verlaine
Paul Verlaine
Paul-Marie Verlaine was a French poet associated with the Symbolist movement. He is considered one of the greatest representatives of the fin de siècle in international and French poetry.-Early life:...

, the son-in-law of his former teacher, Mme. Mauté de Fleurville.
As the winner of the 1884 Prix de Rome
Prix de Rome
The Prix de Rome was a scholarship for arts students, principally of painting, sculpture, and architecture. It was created, initially for painters and sculptors, in 1663 in France during the reign of Louis XIV. It was an annual bursary for promising artists having proved their talents by...

 with his composition L'enfant prodigue
L'Enfant prodigue
L'Enfant prodigue was the first feature-length motion picture produced in Europe, running 90 minutes. Directed by Michel Carré, fils from his own three-act stage pantomime, the film was basically an unmodified record, filmed at Gaumont studio in May 1907...

, Debussy received a scholarship to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, which included a four-year residence at the Villa Medici
Villa Medici
The Villa Medici is a mannerist villa and an architectural complex with a garden contiguous with the larger Borghese gardens, on the Pincian Hill next to Trinità dei Monti in Rome, Italy. The Villa Medici, founded by Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and now property of the French...

, the French Academy in Rome
French Academy in Rome
The French Academy in Rome is an Academy located in the Villa Medici, within the Villa Borghese, on the Pincio in Rome, Italy.-History:...

, to further his studies (1885–1887). According to letters to Madame Vasnier, perhaps in part designed to gain her sympathy, he found the artistic atmosphere stifling, the company boorish, the food bad, and the monastic quarters "abominable". Neither did he delight in the pleasures of the "Eternal City", finding the Italian opera of Donizetti
Gaetano Donizetti
Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti was an Italian composer from Bergamo, Lombardy. His best-known works are the operas L'elisir d'amore , Lucia di Lammermoor , and Don Pasquale , all in Italian, and the French operas La favorite and La fille du régiment...

 and Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century...

 not to his taste. Debussy was often depressed and unable to compose, but he was inspired by Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

, whose command of the keyboard he found admirable.

In June 1885, Debussy wrote of his desire to follow his own way, saying, "I am sure the Institute would not approve, for, naturally it regards the path which it ordains as the only right one. But there is no help for it! I am too enamoured of my freedom, too fond of my own ideas."

Debussy finally composed four pieces that were sent to the Academy: the symphonic ode Zuleima, based on a text by Heinrich Heine
Heinrich Heine
Christian Johann Heinrich Heine was one of the most significant German poets of the 19th century. He was also a journalist, essayist, and literary critic. He is best known outside Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder by composers such as Robert Schumann...

; the orchestral piece Printemps; the cantata
Cantata
A cantata is a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment, typically in several movements, often involving a choir....

 La damoiselle élue (1887–1888), which was criticized by the Academy as "bizarre"; and the Fantaisie for piano and orchestra. The third piece was the first in which stylistic features of Debussy's later style emerged. The fourth piece was heavily based on César Franck
César Franck
César-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert Franck was a composer, pianist, organist, and music teacher who worked in Paris during his adult life....

's music and Debussy withdrew it. The Academy chided him for "courting the unusual" and hoped for something better from the gifted student. Even though Debussy's works showed the influence of Jules Massenet
Jules Massenet
Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet was a French composer best known for his operas. His compositions were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he ranks as one of the greatest melodists of his era. Soon after his death, Massenet's style went out of fashion, and many of his operas...

, Massenet concluded, "He is an enigma."

During his visits to Bayreuth
Bayreuth Festspielhaus
The or Bayreuth Festival Theatre is an opera house north of Bayreuth, Germany, dedicated solely to the performance of operas by the 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner...

 in 1888-9, Debussy was exposed to Wagnerian
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 opera, which had a lasting impact on his work. Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 had died in 1883 and the cult of Wagnerism was still in full swing. Debussy, like many young musicians of the time, responded positively to Wagner's sensuousness, mastery of form, and striking harmonies. Wagner's extroverted emotionalism was not to be Debussy's way , but the German composer's influence is evident in La damoiselle élue and the 1889 piece Cinq poèmes de Charles Baudelaire. Other songs of the period, notably the settings of Verlaine —Ariettes oubliées, Trois mélodies, and Fêtes galantes— are all in a more capricious style. Around this time, Debussy met Erik Satie
Erik Satie
Éric Alfred Leslie Satie was a French composer and pianist. Satie was a colourful figure in the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde...

, who proved a kindred spirit in his experimental approach to composition and to naming his pieces. During this period, both musicians were bohemians enjoying the same cafe society and struggling to stay afloat financially.

In 1889, at the Exposition Universelle
Exposition Universelle (1889)
The Exposition Universelle of 1889 was a World's Fair held in Paris, France from 6 May to 31 October 1889.It was held during the year of the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, an event traditionally considered as the symbol for the beginning of the French Revolution...

 in Paris, Debussy heard Javanese gamelan
Gamelan
A gamelan is a musical ensemble from Indonesia, typically from the islands of Bali or Java, featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. Vocalists may also be included....

 music. Although direct citations of gamelan scales, melodies, rhythms, or ensemble textures have not been identified in any of Debussy's compositions, the equal-tempered pentatonic scale
Pentatonic scale
A pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five notes per octave in contrast to a heptatonic scale such as the major scale and minor scale...

 appears in his music of this time and afterward.

Private life

Debussy's private life was often turbulent. At the age of 18 he began an eight-year affair with Blanche Vasnier, wife of a wealthy Parisian lawyer. The relationship eventually faltered following his winning of the Prix de Rome and obligatory incarceration in the eponymous city.

On his permanent return to Paris and his parents' home on the av. de Berlin in 1889, he began a tempestuous nine-year relationship with Gabrielle ('Gaby') Dupont, a tailor's daughter from Lisieux
Lisieux
Lisieux is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.Lisieux is the capital of the Pays d'Auge area, which is characterised by valleys and hedged farmland...

, with whom he later cohabited on the Rue Gustave Doré. During this time he also had an affair with the singer Thérèse Roger, to whom he was briefly engaged.

He left Dupont for her friend Rosalie ('Lilly') Texier, a fashion model whom he married in 1899. Although Texier was affectionate, practical, straightforward, and well liked by Debussy's friends and associates, he became increasingly irritated by her intellectual limitations and lack of musical sensitivity. In 1904, Debussy was introduced to Emma Bardac
Emma Bardac
Emma Bardac , née Moyse, was the mutual love interest of both Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy. Of Jewish descent, Emma married, aged 17, Parisian banker Sigismond Bardac, by whom she had two children, Raoul, and Hélène . Emma was an accomplished singer and brilliant conversationalist...

, wife of Parisian banker Sigismond Bardac, by her son Raoul, one of his students. In contrast to Texier, Bardac was a sophisticate, a brilliant conversationalist, and an accomplished singer. After despatching Lilly back to her father's home in Bichain on 15 July 1904, Debussy secretly took Bardac to Jersey
Jersey
Jersey, officially the Bailiwick of Jersey is a British Crown Dependency off the coast of Normandy, France. As well as the island of Jersey itself, the bailiwick includes two groups of small islands that are no longer permanently inhabited, the Minquiers and Écréhous, and the Pierres de Lecq and...

 for a holiday. On their return to France, Debussy wrote to Texier from Dieppe
Dieppe, Seine-Maritime
Dieppe is a commune in the Seine-Maritime department in France. In 1999, the population of the whole Dieppe urban area was 81,419.A port on the English Channel, famous for its scallops, and with a regular ferry service from the Gare Maritime to Newhaven in England, Dieppe also has a popular pebbled...

 on 11 August, informing her their marriage was over, but still making no mention of Bardac. On 14 October, five days before their fifth wedding anniversary, Texier attempted suicide, shooting herself in the chest while standing in the Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde
The Place de la Concorde in area, it is the largest square in the French capital. It is located in the city's eighth arrondissement, at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées.- History :...

; she survived, although the bullet remained lodged in her vertebrae until her death in 1932. The ensuing scandal was to alienate Debussy from many of his friends, whilst Bardac was disowned by her family.

In the spring of 1905, finding the hostility towards them intolerable, Debussy and Bardac (now pregnant) fled to England, via Jersey, settling at the Grand Hotel
Grand Hotel Eastbourne
The Grand Hotel is a Victorian hotel also known as the 'White Palace' is located on King Edwards Parade, Eastbourne in East Sussex England. This 5 star hotel is part of an independent UK based hotel group, Elite Hotels who also own Tylney Hall in Hampshire, Ashdown Park Hotel near Forest Row and...

 in Eastbourne
Eastbourne
Eastbourne is a large town and borough in East Sussex, on the south coast of England between Brighton and Hastings. The town is situated at the eastern end of the chalk South Downs alongside the high cliff at Beachy Head...

 from 24 July to 30 August 1905, where Debussy was to correct proofs to his symphonic suite La mer
La Mer (Debussy)
La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre , or simply La mer , is an orchestral composition by the French composer Claude Debussy. It was started in 1903 in France and completed in 1905 on the English Channel coast in Eastbourne...

, and celebrate his divorce from Texier on 2 August. After concluding their holiday with a brief visit to London, they returned to Paris, soon setting up home on the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne (now Avenue Foch), where he was to reside for the rest of his life. Their daughter (and the composer's only child), Claude-Emma, was born there on 30 October. More affectionately known as 'Chouchou', Claude-Emma was the dedicatee of Debussy's Children's Corner
Children's Corner
Children's Corner is a six-movement suite for solo piano by Claude Debussy. It was published by Durand in 1908, and was given its world première in Paris by Harold Bauer on December 18 of that year...

 suite; she outlived her father by scarcely a year, succumbing to the diphtheria
Diphtheria
Diphtheria is an upper respiratory tract illness caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, a facultative anaerobic, Gram-positive bacterium. It is characterized by sore throat, low fever, and an adherent membrane on the tonsils, pharynx, and/or nasal cavity...

 epidemic of 1919. Her parents were eventually married in 1908, their troubled union enduring until Debussy's death in 1918.

Death

Debussy died of rectal cancer
Colorectal cancer
Colorectal cancer, commonly known as bowel cancer, is a cancer caused by uncontrolled cell growth , in the colon, rectum, or vermiform appendix. Colorectal cancer is clinically distinct from anal cancer, which affects the anus....

 in Paris on 25 March 1918. He had been diagnosed with the cancer in 1909 after experiencing haemorrhaging, and in 1916 underwent one of the first colostomy
Colostomy
A colostomy is a surgical procedure in which a stoma is formed by drawing the healthy end of the large intestine or colon through an incision in the anterior abdominal wall and suturing it into place. This opening, in conjunction with the attached stoma appliance, provides an alternative channel...

 operations ever performed. The operation achieved only a temporary respite, and occasioned him considerable frustration (he was to liken dressing in the morning to "all the labours of Hercules in one"). His death occurred in the midst of the aerial and artillery bombardment of Paris during the German Spring Offensive
Spring Offensive
The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht , also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during World War I, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914...

 of World War I. The funeral procession made its way through deserted streets to Père Lachaise Cemetery
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Père Lachaise Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris, France , though there are larger cemeteries in the city's suburbs.Père Lachaise is in the 20th arrondissement, and is reputed to be the world's most-visited cemetery, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the...

 as shells from the German guns ripped into his beloved city. At this time, the military situation in France was desperate, and circumstances did not permit the honour of a public funeral or ceremonious graveside orations. It was just eight months before France would celebrate victory. Debussy's body was reinterred shortly afterwards in the small Passy Cemetery
Passy Cemetery
The Passy Cemetery is a famous cemetery located at 2, rue du Commandant Schlœsing in Passy, in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, France.-History:...

 sequestered behind the Trocadéro
Trocadéro
The Trocadéro, , site of the Palais de Chaillot, , is an area of Paris, France, in the 16th arrondissement, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The hill of the Trocadéro is the hill of Chaillot, a former village.- Origin of the name :...

; his wife and daughter are buried with him.

Musical style

Rudolph Reti
Rudolph Reti
Rudolph Reti , was a musical analyst, composer and pianist. He was the older brother of the great chess master Richard Réti ....

 points out these features of Debussy's music, which "established a new concept of tonality in European music":
  1. Glittering passages and webs of figurations which distract from occasional absence of tonality;
  2. Frequent use of parallel chords which are "in essence not harmonies at all, but rather 'chordal melodies', enriched unisons"; some writers describe these as non-functional harmonies;
  3. Bitonality, or at least bitonal chords;
  4. Use of the whole-tone
    Major second
    In Western music theory, a major second is a musical interval spanning two semitones, and encompassing two adjacent staff positions . For example, the interval from C to D is a major second, as the note D lies two semitones above C, and the two notes are notated on adjacent staff postions...

     and pentatonic scale
    Pentatonic scale
    A pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five notes per octave in contrast to a heptatonic scale such as the major scale and minor scale...

    ;
  5. Unprepared modulations
    Modulation (music)
    In music, modulation is most commonly the act or process of changing from one key to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature. Modulations articulate or create the structure or form of many pieces, as well as add interest...

    , "without any harmonic bridge."

He concludes that Debussy's achievement was the synthesis of monophonic based "melodic tonality" with harmonies, albeit different from those of "harmonic tonality".

The application of the term "impressionist" to Debussy and the music he influenced is a matter of intense debate within academic circles. One side argues that the term is a misnomer, an inappropriate label which Debussy himself opposed. In a letter of 1908, he wrote "I am trying to do 'something different'--an effect of reality...what the imbeciles call 'impressionism', a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by the critics, since they do not hesitate to apply it to Turner
J. M. W. Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner RA was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist and printmaker. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting...

, the finest creator of mysterious effects in all the world of art." The opposing side argues that Debussy may have been reacting to unfavorable criticism at the time, and the negativity that critics associated with impressionism. It can be argued that he would have been pleased with application of the current definition of impressionism to his music.

List of works


Early works

Beginning in the 1890s, Debussy developed his own musical language largely independent of Wagner's style, colored in part from the dreamy, sometimes morbid romanticism of the Symbolist Movement. Debussy became a frequent participant at Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé , whose real name was Étienne Mallarmé, was a French poet and critic. He was a major French symbolist poet, and his work anticipated and inspired several revolutionary artistic schools of the early 20th century, such as Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism.-Biography:Stéphane...

's Symbolist gatherings, where Wagnerism dominated the discussion. In contrast to the enormous works of Wagner and other late-romantic composers, however, around this time Debussy chose to write in smaller, more accessible forms. The Deux Arabesques
Arabesques (Debussy)
The Two Arabesques , L. 66, is a pair of arabesques composed by Claude Debussy. They are two of Debussy's earliest works, composed between the years 1888 and 1891, when he was still in his twenties....

 is an example of one of Debussy's earliest works, already developing his musical language. Suite bergamasque
Suite bergamasque
The Suite bergamasque is one of the most famous piano suites by Claude Debussy. Debussy commenced the suite in 1890 at age 28, but he did not finish or publish it until 1905.-History:...

 (1890) recalls rococo
Rococo
Rococo , also referred to as "Late Baroque", is an 18th-century style which developed as Baroque artists gave up their symmetry and became increasingly ornate, florid, and playful...

 decorousness with a modern cynicism and puzzlement. This suite contains one of Debussy's most popular pieces, Clair de Lune
Suite bergamasque
The Suite bergamasque is one of the most famous piano suites by Claude Debussy. Debussy commenced the suite in 1890 at age 28, but he did not finish or publish it until 1905.-History:...

. Debussy's String Quartet in G minor
String Quartet (Debussy)
Claude Debussy wrote his sole String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10 in 1893.-Background:The previous year Debussy had abandoned the opera Rodrigue et Chimène...

 (1893) paved the way for his later, more daring harmonic exploration. In this work he utilized the Phrygian
Phrygian mode
The Phrygian mode can refer to three different musical modes: the ancient Greek tonos or harmonia sometimes called Phrygian, formed on a particular set octave species or scales; the Medieval Phrygian mode, and the modern conception of the Phrygian mode as a diatonic scale, based on the latter...

 mode
Musical mode
In the theory of Western music since the ninth century, mode generally refers to a type of scale. This usage, still the most common in recent years, reflects a tradition dating to the middle ages, itself inspired by the theory of ancient Greek music.The word encompasses several additional...

 as well as less standard scales, such as the whole-tone, which creates a sense of floating, ethereal harmony. Debussy was beginning to employ a single, continuous theme and break away from the traditional A-B-A form, with its restatements and amplifications, which had been a mainstay of classical music since Haydn.

Influenced by Mallarmé, Debussy wrote one of his most famous works, the revolutionary Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune , commonly known by its English title Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, is a symphonic poem for orchestra by Claude Debussy, approximately 10 minutes in duration...

, truly original in form and execution. In contrast to the large orchestras so favoured by late-romanticism, Debussy wrote this piece for a smaller ensemble, emphasizing instrumental colour and timbre. Despite Mallarmé himself, and colleague and friend Paul Dukas
Paul Dukas
Paul Abraham Dukas was a French composer, critic, scholar and teacher. A studious man, of retiring personality, he was intensely self-critical, and he abandoned and destroyed many of his compositions...

 having been impressed by the piece, it was controversial at its premiere. Prélude subsequently placed Debussy into the spotlight as one of the leading composers of the era.

Middle works

The three Nocturnes (1899), include characteristic studies in veiled harmony and texture as demonstrated in Nuages; exuberance in Fêtes; and whole-tones in Sirènes. Contrasting sharply with Wagnerian opera, Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande
Pelléas et Mélisande (opera)
Pelléas et Mélisande is an opera in five acts with music by Claude Debussy. The French libretto was adapted from Maurice Maeterlinck's Symbolist play Pelléas et Mélisande...

 premiered in 1902, after ten years of work. It would be his only complete opera. Based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck
Maurice Maeterlinck
Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck, also called Comte Maeterlinck from 1932, was a Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist who wrote in French. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911. The main themes in his work are death and the meaning of life...

, the opera proved to be an immediate success and immensely influential to younger French composers, including Maurice Ravel
Maurice Ravel
Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects...

. These works brought a fluidity of rhythm and colour quite new to Western music.

La mer
La Mer (Debussy)
La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre , or simply La mer , is an orchestral composition by the French composer Claude Debussy. It was started in 1903 in France and completed in 1905 on the English Channel coast in Eastbourne...

 (1903–1905) essays a more symphonic form, with a finale that works themes from the first movement, although the middle movement, Jeux de vagues, proceeds much less directly and with more variety of colour. Again, the reviews were sharply divided. Some critics thought the treatment to be less subtle and less mysterious than his previous works and even a step backward. Pierre Lalo complained "I neither hear, nor see, nor feel the sea". Others extolled its "power and charm", its "extraordinary verve and brilliant fantasy", and its strong colors and definite lines.

During this period Debussy wrote much for the piano. The set of pieces entitled Pour le piano
Pour le piano
Pour le piano , L.95, is a suite for solo piano by Claude Debussy. The composition was finished and issued in 1901. Its premiere took place on 11 January 1902 in the Salle Érard for the Société Nationale de Musique, with Ricardo Viñes as the pianist.It consists of three parts:# Prélude# Sarabande#...

 (1901) utilises rich harmonies and textures which would later prove important in jazz
Jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

 music. His first volume of Images pour piano (1904–1905) combine harmonic innovation with poetic suggestion: Reflets dans l'eau
Reflets dans l'eau
Claude Debussy's piece Reflets dans l'eau is the first of three pieces for the piano from his first volume of Images, which are frequently performed separately. It was written in 1905...

 is a musical description of rippling water; Hommage à Rameau, the second piece, is slow and yearningly nostalgic. It takes as its inspiration a melody from Jean-Philippe Rameau
Jean-Philippe Rameau
Jean-Philippe Rameau was one of the most important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era. He replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the dominant composer of French opera and is also considered the leading French composer for the harpsichord of his time, alongside François...

's Castor et Pollux
Castor et Pollux
Castor et Pollux is an opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau, first performed on 24 October 1737 at the Académie royale de musique in Paris. The librettist was Pierre-Joseph-Justin Bernard, whose reputation as a salon poet it made. This was the third opera by Rameau and his second in the form of the...

.

The evocative Estampes
Estampes
Estampes , L.100, is a composition for solo piano by Claude Debussy. It was finished in 1903.It consists of three movements:# Pagodes - approx. 6 minutes.# Soirée dans Grenade - approx. 5½ minutes....

 for piano (1903) give impressions of exotic locations. Debussy came into contact with Java
Java
Java is an island of Indonesia. With a population of 135 million , it is the world's most populous island, and one of the most densely populated regions in the world. It is home to 60% of Indonesia's population. The Indonesian capital city, Jakarta, is in west Java...

nese gamelan
Gamelan
A gamelan is a musical ensemble from Indonesia, typically from the islands of Bali or Java, featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. Vocalists may also be included....

 music during the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle
Exposition Universelle (1889)
The Exposition Universelle of 1889 was a World's Fair held in Paris, France from 6 May to 31 October 1889.It was held during the year of the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, an event traditionally considered as the symbol for the beginning of the French Revolution...

. Pagodes is the directly inspired result, aiming for an evocation of the pentatonic structures employed by the Javanese music. Debussy wrote his famous Children's Corner
Children's Corner
Children's Corner is a six-movement suite for solo piano by Claude Debussy. It was published by Durand in 1908, and was given its world première in Paris by Harold Bauer on December 18 of that year...

 Suite (1908) for his beloved daughter, Claude-Emma, whom he nicknamed Chouchou. The suite recalls classicism—the opening piece Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum refers to Muzio Clementi
Muzio Clementi
Muzio Clementi was a celebrated composer, pianist, pedagogue, conductor, music publisher, editor, and piano manufacturer. Born in Italy, he spent most of his life in England. He is best known for his piano sonatas, and his collection of piano studies, Gradus ad Parnassum...

's collection of instructional piano compositions Gradus ad Parnassum, as well as a new wave of American ragtime music. In the popular final piece of the suite, Golliwogg's Cakewalk, Debussy also pokes fun at Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 by mimicking the opening bars of Wagner's prelude to Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde is an opera, or music drama, in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the romance by Gottfried von Straßburg. It was composed between 1857 and 1859 and premiered in Munich on 10 June 1865 with Hans von Bülow conducting...

.

The first book of Préludes
Preludes (Debussy)
Claude Debussy's Préludes are two sets of pieces for solo piano. They are divided into two separate livres, or books, of twelve preludes each. Unlike previous collections of preludes, like those of JS Bach and Chopin, Debussy's do not follow a strict pattern of key signatures.Each book was written...

 (1910), twelve in total, proved to be his most successful work for piano. The Preludes are frequently compared to those of Chopin
Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric François Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist. He is considered one of the great masters of Romantic music and has been called "the poet of the piano"....

. Debussy's preludes are replete with rich, unusual and daring harmonies. They include the popular La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair) and La Cathédrale Engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral). Debussy wanted people to respond intuitively to these pieces and so he placed the titles at the end of each one in the hope that listeners would not make stereotype images as they listened.

Larger scaled works included his orchestral piece Iberia (1907), began as a work for two pianos, a triptych
Triptych
A triptych , from tri-= "three" + ptysso= "to fold") is a work of art which is divided into three sections, or three carved panels which are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. It is therefore a type of polyptych, the term for all multi-panel works...

 medley of Spanish allusions and fleeting impressions and also the music for Gabriele d'Annunzio
Gabriele D'Annunzio
Gabriele D'Annunzio or d'Annunzio was an Italian poet, journalist, novelist, and dramatist...

's mystery play Le martyre de Saint Sébastien
Le martyre de Saint Sébastien
Le martyre de Saint Sébastien, L 124 is a musical work by the French composer Claude Debussy.Written in 1911, the work—a five-act musical mystery play on the subject of Saint Sebastian -- was produced in collaboration with Gabriele d'Annunzio and designed as a vehicle for Ida Rubinstein...

 (1911). A lush and dramatic work, written in only two months, it is remarkable in sustaining a late antique
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

 modal
Musical mode
In the theory of Western music since the ninth century, mode generally refers to a type of scale. This usage, still the most common in recent years, reflects a tradition dating to the middle ages, itself inspired by the theory of ancient Greek music.The word encompasses several additional...

 atmosphere that otherwise was touched only in relatively short piano pieces.

During this period, as Debussy gained more popularity, he was engaged as a conductor throughout Europe, most often performing Pelléas, La Mer, and Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. He was also an occasional music critic to supplement his conducting fees and piano lessons. Debussy avoided analytical dissection and attempts to force images from music, "Let us at all costs preserve this magic peculiar to music, since of all the arts it is most susceptible to magic." He could be caustic and witty, sometimes sloppy and ill-informed. Debussy was for the most part enthusiastic about Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss
Richard Georg Strauss was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till...

 and Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

, worshipful of Chopin
Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric François Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist. He is considered one of the great masters of Romantic music and has been called "the poet of the piano"....

, Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

 and Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...

, and found both Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

 and Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

 geniuses who sometimes lacked "taste". He also admired the works of Charles-Valentin Alkan
Charles-Valentin Alkan
Charles-Valentin Alkan was a French composer and one of the greatest virtuoso pianists of his day. His attachment to his Jewish origins is displayed both in his life and his work. He entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of six, earning many awards, and as an adult became a famous virtuoso...

. Schubert
Franz Schubert
Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer.Although he died at an early age, Schubert was tremendously prolific. He wrote some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies , liturgical music, operas, some incidental music, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music...

 and Mendelssohn
Felix Mendelssohn
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Barthóldy , use the form 'Mendelssohn' and not 'Mendelssohn Bartholdy'. The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians gives ' Felix Mendelssohn' as the entry, with 'Mendelssohn' used in the body text...

 fared much worse, the latter being described as a "facile and elegant notary".

Late works

Debussy's harmonies and chord
Chord (music)
A chord in music is any harmonic set of two–three or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously. These need not actually be played together: arpeggios and broken chords may for many practical and theoretical purposes be understood as chords...

 progressions frequently exploit dissonances
Consonance and dissonance
In music, a consonance is a harmony, chord, or interval considered stable, as opposed to a dissonance , which is considered to be unstable...

 without any formal resolution. Unlike in his earlier work, he no longer hides discords in lush harmonies. The forms are far more irregular and fragmented. These chords that seemingly had no resolution were described by Debussy himself as "floating chords", and were used to set tone and mood in many of his works. The whole tone scale
Whole tone scale
In music, a whole tone scale is a scale in which each note is separated from its neighbors by the interval of a whole step. There are only two complementary whole tone scales, both six-note or hexatonic scales:...

 dominates much of Debussy's late music.

His two last volumes of works for the piano, the Études
Études (Debussy)
Claude Debussy's Études are a set of 12 piano etudes composed in 1915. The pieces are extremely difficult to play, as Debussy himself admitted, describing them as "a warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands"...

 (1915) interprets similar varieties of style and texture purely as pianistic exercises and includes pieces that develop irregular form to an extreme as well as others influenced by the young Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

 (a presence too in the suite En blanc et noir for two pianos, 1915). The rarefaction of these works is a feature of the last set of songs, the Trois poèmes de Mallarmé (1913), and of the Sonata for flute, viola and harp (1915), though the sonata and its companions also recapture the inquisitive Verlainian classicism.

With the sonatas of 1915–1917, there is a sudden shift in the style. These works recall Debussy's earlier music, in part, but also look forward, with leaner, simpler structures. Despite the thinner textures of the Violin Sonata
Violin Sonata (Debussy)
The Violin Sonata in G minor, L 140, for violin and piano was composed by Claude Debussy in 1917. It was the composer's final composition , forming the third work in what had originally been conceived as a cycle of six sonatas for various instruments...

 (1917) there remains an undeniable richness in the chords themselves. This shift parallels the movement commonly known as neo-classicism
Neoclassicism (music)
Neoclassicism in music was a twentieth-century trend, particularly current in the period between the two World Wars, in which composers sought to return to aesthetic precepts associated with the broadly defined concept of "classicism", namely order, balance, clarity, economy, and emotional restraint...

 which became popular after Debussy's death. Debussy planned a set of six sonatas, but this plan was cut short by his death in 1918 so that he only completed three (cello, flute-viola-harp and violin sonatas).

The last orchestral work by Debussy, the ballet Jeux
Jeux
Jeux is the last work for orchestra written by Claude Debussy. Described as a "poème dansé" , it was originally intended to accompany a ballet, and was written for the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev to choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. Debussy initially objected to the scenario, but...

 (1912) written for Sergei Diaghilev
Sergei Diaghilev
Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev , usually referred to outside of Russia as Serge, was a Russian art critic, patron, ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes, from which many famous dancers and choreographers would arise.-Early life and career:...

's Ballets Russes
Ballets Russes
The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company from Russia which performed between 1909 and 1929 in many countries. Directed by Sergei Diaghilev, it is regarded as the greatest ballet company of the 20th century. Many of its dancers originated from the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg...

, contains some of his strangest harmonies and textures in a form that moves freely over its own field of motivic connection. At first Jeux was overshadowed by Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

's The Rite of Spring
The Rite of Spring
The Rite of Spring, original French title Le sacre du printemps , is a ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky; choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky; and concept, set design and costumes by Nicholas Roerich...

, composed in the same year as Jeux and premiered only two weeks later by the same ballet company. Decades later, composers such as Pierre Boulez
Pierre Boulez
Pierre Boulez is a French composer of contemporary classical music, a pianist, and a conductor.-Early years:Boulez was born in Montbrison, Loire, France. As a child he began piano lessons and demonstrated aptitude in both music and mathematics...

 and Jean Barraqué
Jean Barraqué
Jean-Henri-Alphonse Barraqué was a French composer and writer on music who developed an individual form of serialism which is displayed in a small output of highly complex but passionate works.-Life:...

 pointed out parallels to Anton Webern
Anton Webern
Anton Webern was an Austrian composer and conductor. He was a member of the Second Viennese School. As a student and significant follower of Arnold Schoenberg, he became one of the best-known exponents of the twelve-tone technique; in addition, his innovations regarding schematic organization of...

's serialism
Serialism
In music, serialism is a method or technique of composition that uses a series of values to manipulate different musical elements. Serialism began primarily with Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique, though his contemporaries were also working to establish serialism as one example of...

 in this work. Other late stage works, including the ballets Khamma (1912) and La boîte à joujoux (1913) were left with the orchestration incomplete, and were later completed by Charles Koechlin
Charles Koechlin
Charles Louis Eugène Koechlin was a French composer, teacher and writer on music. He was a political radical all his life and a passionate enthusiast for such diverse things as medieval music, The Jungle Book of Rudyard Kipling, Johann Sebastian Bach, film stars , travelling, stereoscopic...

 and André Caplet
André Caplet
André Caplet was a French composer and conductor now known primarily through his orchestrations of works by Claude Debussy.-Biography:...

, who also helped Debussy with the orchestration of Gigues (from Images pour orchestre) and Le martyre de St. Sébastien.

The second set of Préludes
Preludes (Debussy)
Claude Debussy's Préludes are two sets of pieces for solo piano. They are divided into two separate livres, or books, of twelve preludes each. Unlike previous collections of preludes, like those of JS Bach and Chopin, Debussy's do not follow a strict pattern of key signatures.Each book was written...

 for piano (1913) features Debussy at his most avant-garde
Avant-garde
Avant-garde means "advance guard" or "vanguard". The adjective form is used in English to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics....

, where he utilizes dissonant harmonies to evoke specific moods and images. Debussy consciously gives titles to each prelude that amplify the preludes’ tonal ambiguity and dissonance. He utilizes scales such as the whole tone scale, musical modes, and the octatonic scale in his preludes that exaggerate this tonal ambiguity, making the key of each prelude almost indistinguishable at times. The second book of Preludes for piano represents Debussy’s strong interest in the indefinite and esoteric.

Although Pelléas was Debussy's only completed opera, he began several opera projects which remained unfinished, his fading concentration, increasing procrastination, and failing health perhaps the reasons. He had finished some partial musical sketches and some unpublished libretti for operas based on Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

's The Devil in the Belfry
The Devil in the Belfry
"The Devil in the Belfry" is a satirical short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published in 1839.-Plot summary:In an isolated town called Vondervotteimittis , the punctilious inhabitants seem to be concerned with nothing but clocks and cabbage...

 (Le diable dans le beffroi
Le diable dans le beffroi
Le diable dans le beffroi is an unfinished comic opera in one act by Claude Debussy to his own libretto, based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Devil in the Belfry.-Composition:...

, 1902–?1912) and The Fall of the House of Usher
The Fall of the House of Usher
"The Fall of the House of Usher" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in September 1839 in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. It was slightly revised in 1840 for the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque...

 (La chute de la maison Usher
La chute de la maison Usher (opera)
La chute de la maison Usher is an unfinished opera in one act by Claude Debussy to his own libretto, based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Fall of the House of Usher...

, 1908–1917) as well as considered projects for operas based on Shakespeare's As You Like It
As You Like It
As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the folio of 1623. The play's first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility...

 and Joseph Bedier's La Legende de Tristan.

Further plans, such as an American tour, more ballet scores, and revisions of Chopin and Bach works for re-publication, were all cut short by the outbreak of World War I and his poor health.

Mathematical structuring

Given that Debussy's music is apparently so concerned with mood and colour, one may be surprised to discover that, according to Howat, many of his greatest works appear to have been structured around mathematical models even while using an apparent classical structure such as sonata form
Sonata form
Sonata form is a large-scale musical structure used widely since the middle of the 18th century . While it is typically used in the first movement of multi-movement pieces, it is sometimes used in subsequent movements as well—particularly the final movement...

. Howat suggests that some of Debussy's pieces can be divided into sections that reflect the golden ratio
Golden ratio
In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one. The golden ratio is an irrational mathematical constant, approximately 1.61803398874989...

, frequently by using the numbers of the standard Fibonacci sequence. Sometimes these divisions seem to follow the standard divisions of the overall structure. In other pieces they appear to mark out other significant features of the music. The 55 bar-long introduction to 'Dialogue du vent et la mer' in La mer
La Mer (Debussy)
La mer, trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestre , or simply La mer , is an orchestral composition by the French composer Claude Debussy. It was started in 1903 in France and completed in 1905 on the English Channel coast in Eastbourne...

, for example, breaks down into 5 sections of 21, 8, 8, 5 and 13 bars in length. The golden mean point of bar 34 in this structure is signalled by the introduction of the trombones, with the use of the main motif from all three movements used in the central section around that point.

The only evidence that Howat introduces to support his claim appears in changes Debussy made between finished manuscripts and the printed edition, with the changes invariably creating a Golden Mean proportion where previously none existed. Perhaps the starkest example of this comes with La cathédrale engloutie
La cathédrale engloutie
La cathédrale engloutie is a prelude written by the French composer Claude Debussy for solo piano. It was published in 1910 as the tenth prelude in Debussy’s first of two volumes of twelve piano preludes each...

. Published editions lack the instruction to play bars 7–12 and 22–83 at twice the speed of the remainder, exactly as Debussy himself did on a piano-roll recording. When analysed with this alteration, the piece follows Golden Section proportions. At the same time, Howat admits that in many of Debussy's works, he has been unable to find evidence of the Golden Section (notably in the late works) and that no extant manuscripts or sketches contain any evidence of calculations related to it.

Influences

Debussy had a wide range of influences. Among the Russian composers of his time, the most prominent influences on Debussy were Tchaikovsky, Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Mussorgsky. It can be inferred that from the Russians “Debussy acquired his taste for ancient and oriental modes and for vivid colorations, and a certain disdain for academic rules.” Specifically, Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov directly influenced one of Debussy’s most famous works, Pelléas et Mélisande. In addition to the Russian composers, one of Debussy’s biggest influences was Richard Wagner. According to Pierre Louys, Debussy “did not see ‘what anyone can do beyond Tristan.” After Debussy’s Wagner phase, he started to become immensely interested in non-Western music. He was drawn to unorthodox approaches to composition that non-Western music utilized. Specifically, he was drawn to a Javanese Gamelan
Gamelan
A gamelan is a musical ensemble from Indonesia, typically from the islands of Bali or Java, featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. Vocalists may also be included....

, which was a musical ensemble from the island of Java
Java
Java is an island of Indonesia. With a population of 135 million , it is the world's most populous island, and one of the most densely populated regions in the world. It is home to 60% of Indonesia's population. The Indonesian capital city, Jakarta, is in west Java...

 that played an array of unique instrumentation including gongs and metallophones. He first heard the gamelan at the 1889 Paris Exposition. Debussy was not as interested in directly citing his non-Western influence in his music, but instead used his non-Western influence to shape his unique musical style in more of a general way.

Debussy was just as influenced by other art forms as he was by music, if not more so. He took a strong interest in literature and visual art and used these mediums to help shape his unique musical style. Debussy was heavily influenced by the French symbolist movement, which was an art movement in 1885 that influenced art forms such as poetry, visual art, and theatre. He shared the movement’s interest in the esoteric and indefinite and rejection of naturalism and realism. Specifically, “the development of free verse in poetry and the disappearance of the subject or model in painting influenced Debussy to think about issues of musical form.” Debussy became personally acquainted with writers and painters of the movement and based his own works off of those of the symbolists. One of Debussy’s main influences was the famous poet Stéphane Mallarmé, who “held the idea of a ‘musicalization’ of poetry.” In other words, Mallarmé drew strong connections between music and his poetry. Debussy wrote "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune", which was directly influenced by Mallarmé’s poem “Afternoon of a Faun.” Like the symbolists in respect to their own art forms, Debussy aimed to reject common techniques and approaches to composition and attempted to evoke more of a sensorial experience for the listener with his works. Since his time at the Paris Conservatoire, Debussy believed he had much more to learn from artists than from musicians who were primarily interested in their musical careers.

Contemporary painter James McNeill Whistler
James McNeill Whistler
James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an American-born, British-based artist. Averse to sentimentality and moral allusion in painting, he was a leading proponent of the credo "art for art's sake". His famous signature for his paintings was in the shape of a stylized butterfly possessing a long stinger...

 who lived in France for a period of time had a profound influence on Debussy. In 1894, Debussy wrote to violinist Eugène Ysaÿe
Eugène Ysaÿe
Eugène Ysaÿe was a Belgian violinist, composer and conductor born in Liège. He was regarded as "The King of the Violin", or, as Nathan Milstein put it, the "tzar"...

 describing his Nocturnes as "an experiment in the different combinations that can be obtained from one color – what a study in grey would be in painting." Although it is not known what it is meant by this statement, one can observe in his music a careful use of orchestral, textural, and harmonic 'shading'.

Influence on later composers

Claude Debussy is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. His harmonies, considered radical in his day, were influential to almost every major composer of the 20th century, especially the music of Maurice Ravel
Maurice Ravel
Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects...

, Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

, Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen was a French composer, organist and ornithologist, one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex ; harmonically and melodically it is based on modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from his early compositions and improvisations...

, Béla Bartók
Béla Bartók
Béla Viktor János Bartók was a Hungarian composer and pianist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century and is regarded, along with Liszt, as Hungary's greatest composer...

, Pierre Boulez
Pierre Boulez
Pierre Boulez is a French composer of contemporary classical music, a pianist, and a conductor.-Early years:Boulez was born in Montbrison, Loire, France. As a child he began piano lessons and demonstrated aptitude in both music and mathematics...

, Henri Dutilleux
Henri Dutilleux
Henri Dutilleux is one of the most important French composers of the second half of the 20th century, producing work in the tradition of Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, and Albert Roussel, but in a style distinctly his own...

, Ned Rorem
Ned Rorem
Ned Rorem is a Pulitzer prize-winning American composer and diarist. He is best known and most praised for his song settings.-Life:...

, and the minimalist music
Minimalist music
Minimal music is a style of music associated with the work of American composers La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. It originated in the New York Downtown scene of the 1960s and was initially viewed as a form of experimental music called the New York Hypnotic School....

 of Steve Reich
Steve Reich
Stephen Michael "Steve" Reich is an American composer who together with La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass is a pioneering composer of minimal music...

 and Philip Glass
Philip Glass
Philip Glass is an American composer. He is considered to be one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century and is widely acknowledged as a composer who has brought art music to the public .His music is often described as minimalist, along with...

 as well as the influential Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu
Toru Takemitsu
was a Japanese composer and writer on aesthetics and music theory. Largely self-taught, Takemitsu possessed consummate skill in the subtle manipulation of instrumental and orchestral timbre...

. He also influenced many important figures in Jazz
Jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

, most notably George Gershwin
George Gershwin
George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist. Gershwin's compositions spanned both popular and classical genres, and his most popular melodies are widely known...

, Bill Evans
Bill Evans
William John Evans, known as Bill Evans was an American jazz pianist. His use of impressionist harmony, inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, and trademark rhythmically independent, "singing" melodic lines influenced a generation of pianists including: Chick Corea, Herbie...

, George Shearing, Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Sphere Monk was an American jazz pianist and composer considered "one of the giants of American music". Monk had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including "Epistrophy", "'Round Midnight", "Blue Monk", "Straight, No Chaser"...

, Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and big band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions...

, Antônio Carlos Jobim
Antônio Carlos Jobim
Antônio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim , also known as Tom Jobim , was a Brazilian songwriter, composer, arranger, singer, and pianist/guitarist. He was a primary force behind the creation of the bossa nova style, and his songs have been performed by many singers and instrumentalists within...

, Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbert Jeffrey "Herbie" Hancock is an American pianist, bandleader and composer. As part of Miles Davis's "second great quintet," Hancock helped to redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section and was one of the primary architects of the "post-bop" sound...

 and Jimmy Giuffre
Jimmy Giuffre
James Peter Giuffre was an American jazz clarinet and saxophone player, composer and arranger. He is notable for his development of forms of jazz which allowed for free interplay between the musicians, anticipating forms of free improvisation.-Biography:Born in Dallas, Texas, of Italian ancestry,...

. Furthermore, he had a profound impact on contemporary soundtrack composers such as John Williams
John Williams
John Towner Williams is an American composer, conductor, and pianist. In a career spanning almost six decades, he has composed some of the most recognizable film scores in the history of motion pictures, including the Star Wars saga, Jaws, Superman, the Indiana Jones films, E.T...

 because Debussy's colorful and suggesting style translated easily into an emotional language for use in motion picture scores. In 1999, The Art of Noise
The Art of Noise
Art of Noise was an avant-garde synthpop group formed in 1983 by engineer/producer Gary Langan, programmer J. J. Jeczalik, along with arranger Anne Dudley, producer Trevor Horn and music journalist Paul Morley. The group's mostly instrumental compositions were novel melodic sound collages based on...

 released a concept album titled The Seduction of Claude Debussy
The Seduction of Claude Debussy
The Seduction of Claude Debussy is a 1999 concept album by Art of Noise, featuring a line-up of Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley, Paul Morley, and Lol Creme. Also appearing on the album are John Hurt, soprano Sally Bradshaw, Rakim, and Donna Lewis...

. The group blended the music of Debussy with drum and bass, opera, hip hop, jazz, and narration, and described the album as "the soundtrack to a film that wasn't made about the life of Claude Debussy". In 2000, the band released Reduction, a limited-edition album composed mainly of outtakes from this album.

Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Anthony Stokowski was a British-born, naturalised American orchestral conductor, well known for his free-hand performing style that spurned the traditional baton and for obtaining a characteristically sumptuous sound from many of the great orchestras he conducted.In America, Stokowski...

, in an article, pointed out the identification of composers including Debussy with the music of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was an Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition...

, providing an inspiration for non-contrapuntal music.

Media

Eponyms

Claude Debussy's name has, posthumously, been given to a number of discoveries. These include:
  • Debussy Heights
    Debussy Heights
    Debussy Heights is a heights which rise to 1,300 m east of Mozart Ice Piedmont in the north part of Alexander Island. First mapped from air photos taken by the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition , 1947-48, by Searle of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey in 1960...

    , a heights at Ravel Peak which was discovered in 1960;
  • Debussy
    Debussy (crater)
    Debussy is a rayed impact crater on Mercury, which was discovered in 1969 by low resolution ground based radar observations obtained by the Goldstone Observatory. Later in 1990–2005 it was imaged in more detail by the Arecibo Observatory. The crater was initially known as the feature A...

    , an impact crater
    Impact crater
    In the broadest sense, the term impact crater can be applied to any depression, natural or manmade, resulting from the high velocity impact of a projectile with a larger body...

     on Mercury
    Mercury (planet)
    Mercury is the innermost and smallest planet in the Solar System, orbiting the Sun once every 87.969 Earth days. The orbit of Mercury has the highest eccentricity of all the Solar System planets, and it has the smallest axial tilt. It completes three rotations about its axis for every two orbits...

     which was discovered in 1969;
  • 4492 Debussy
    4492 Debussy
    4492 Debussy is a main belt asteroid. It was discovered on 17 September 1988 by Eric Elst. It is named after the French composer Claude Debussy. It is believed to measure approximately 10 km in diameter....

    , a main belt
    Asteroid belt
    The asteroid belt is the region of the Solar System located roughly between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter. It is occupied by numerous irregularly shaped bodies called asteroids or minor planets...

     asteroid
    Asteroid
    Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

     which was discovered in 1988.

Recordings

Debussy participated in a handful of recordings, made in 1904, with soprano Mary Garden
Mary Garden
Mary Garden , was a Scottish operatic soprano with a substantial career in France and America in the first third of the 20th century...

. He also made some piano rolls for Welte Mignon in 1913.

Further reading

  • Lücke, Hendrik (2005): Mallarmé – Debussy. Eine vergleichende Studie zur Kunstanschauung am Beispiel von „L'Après-midi d'un Faune“. (= Studien zur Musikwissenschaft, Bd. 4). Dr. Kovac, ISBN 3-8300-1685-9.
  • James Ross
    James Ross (conductor)
    James Ross MA, MSt, DPhil, is a British conductor and author.-Career:Ross studied at Harrow School, and later at Christ Church, Oxford from where he received an MA in Modern History , an MSt in Music , and a DPhil in French opera...

    , "Pelléas et Mélisande: The 'Nouveau Prophete'?", Crisis and Transformation: French Opera, Politics and the Press (Oxford University D.Phil. Thesis, 1998), pp. 164–208.
  • R.S. Parks : The Music of Claude Debussy (New Haven, 1989)
  • R.L. Smith, ed.: Debussy Studies (Cambridge, 1997)
  • R. Nichols : The Life of Debussy (Cambridge, 1998)
  • M. Baigent : The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail (G.B 1983)

External links


Music scores

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