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Claude DeBussy - French Musical Impressionist

Updated on April 26, 2016

Claude DeBussy

French composer Claude DeBussy regarded as one of the prominent figure in the Impressionist Era and all throughout the European music at the turn of the twentieth century. His mature compositions, distinctive and appealing, combined modernism and sensuality so successfully that their sheer beauty often obscures their technical innovation. Debussy is considered the founder and leading exponent of musical Impressionism.

Claude DeBussy Biography - A Closer Look.

Achille Claude Debussy, b. Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Aug. 22, 1862, d. Paris, Mar. 25, 1918, was the creator and leading exponent of French musical impressionism. He had his first piano lesson at the age of 9. In 1873, Debussy entered the Paris Conservatory, where he studied piano with Antoine Francois Marmontel and composition with Ernest Guiraud. His cantata L'enfant prodigue won the Prix de Rome in 1884.

From 1887 on, Debussy confined his activity to composition, rarely appearing in public as a performer. Although he associated little with musicians, he enjoyed the company of the leading impressionist poets and painters who gathered at the home of the poet Stephane Mallarme. Their influence is felt in Debussy's first important orchestral work, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1892-94), inspired by Mallarme's poem, L'Apres-midi d'un faune. This work established the style of impressionist music and initiated Debussy's most productive period, which lasted nearly 20 years. During that time he composed the orchestral suites Nocturnes (1893-99), La Mer (1903-05), and Images (1906-09); most of his piano music, including the two books of Preludes (1910-13); the incidental music to The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian (1911); the ballet Jeux (1912); a number of songs and some chamber music; and his one completed opera, Pelleas et Melisande (1892-1902), based on Maurice Maeterlinck's drama.

In 1899, Debussy married Rosalie Texier, a dressmaker. He left her in 1904 for Emma Bardac, wife of a Parisian banker. He married Bardac in 1908; they had one daughter, Claude-Emma, the "Chouchou" to whom the Children's Corner suite (1906-08) was dedicated. About 1910 Debussy developed cancer, which sapped his strength during his last years. His sadness during World War I hastened the deterioration of his health. Many projects were planned, such as an opera based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," but few were completed. He died during the bombardment of Paris by German artillery.

Debussy's style was one of the most important influences on 20th- century music. As a student he refused to submit to the rules of traditional musical theory. Later he stated "There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law." He rejected the overblown forms and the harmonic style of the post-Wagnerians such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. He preferred understated effects similar to those achieved by the French impressionist painters and poets. Pelleas et Melisande, the most significant impressionist opera, has been called a masterpiece of understatement. He wanted his music to sound improvisatory, as though it had not been written down. Many of his compositions are miniatures, such as the 24 piano preludes, which often have fanciful titles such as "What the West Wind Saw," "Dead Leaves," and "Sounds and Scents Revolve in the Evening Air." Debussy's piano music is the most important since Chopin's. He created a subtle pianistic style that made new demands on performing technique, and the shifting, blurred sonorities of the style were achieved by a new use of the damper pedal. His best-known composition is probably "Clair de lune" (Moonlight) from "Suite Bergamasque" (1890-1905) for piano. (read more, Wikipedia)

Videos to Watch: Clair De Lune - (moonlight)

Don't Miss The Music of Claude DeBussy

Panorama: Debussy
Panorama: Debussy

Customer's Review:

Clocking in at more than two-and-a-half hours of music by Debussy, this is one of the best collections of his music that money can buy. It includes definitive performances of his most popular symphonic, chamber, and solo piano works. Michelangeli, for instance, is known for, above all, his interpretations of Debussy. Gramophone magazine says of these recordings "Michelangeli subjects each note to the last refinements of shading and places it with hairsbreadth precision.


Listen to no one's advice except that of the wind in the trees. That can recount the whole history of mankind...

- Claude DeBussy

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Claude DeBussy by Naiza Oclares is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Deutsche Gramophon recording of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli's Images I+II & Children's Corner remains an abdolute hit (DG Spain 25 30 196). The cover shows a portrait of young Debussy with no reference of autorship. Is is a pitty for it is a very rare portrait of the composer. Anyone providing info would be warmly welcomed.

    • nephthys lm profile image

      nephthys lm 

      6 years ago

      great composer- have you listened to 'the maid with the flaxen hair'?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      NAIZA! I loove DeBussy! Fantastic lens. It looks to me like you are a real Squidoo pro/elite/veteran. Awesome stuff!

    • BrickHouseFabrics profile image


      7 years ago

      Love the emoting!


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