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Claude Debussy
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Claude-Achille Debussy[1] (French: [klod aʃil dəbysi];[2] 22 August

1862 – 25 March 1918) was a French composer. He and Maurice
Ravel were the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist
music, though Debussy disliked the term when applied to his
compositions.[3] He was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in
his native France in 1903.[4] Debussy was among the most influential
composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and his use of
non-traditional scales and chromaticism influenced many composers
who followed.[5]

Debussy's music is noted for its sensory content and frequent usage of
nontraditional tonalities.[6] The prominent French literary style of his Claude Debussy in 1908
period was known as Symbolism, and this movement directly inspired
Debussy both as a composer and as an active cultural participant.[7]

1 Early life
1.1 Musical development
2 Personal life
3 Death
4 Music
4.1 Style
4.2 List of works
4.3 Early works
4.4 Middle works
4.5 Late works
4.6 Mathematical structuring
4.7 Influences
4.8 Influence on later composers
5 Eponyms
6 Recordings
7 References
8 Sources
9 Further reading
10 External links

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Early life
Debussy was born Achille-Claude Debussy (he later reversed his
forenames) on 22 August 1862 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France, the
oldest of five children. His father, Manuel-Achille Debussy, owned a
china shop there; his mother, Victorine Manoury Debussy, was a
seamstress. The family moved to Paris in 1867, but in 1870 Debussy's
pregnant mother fled with Claude to his paternal aunt's home in Cannes
to escape the Franco-Prussian War. Debussy began piano lessons there
at the age of seven with an Italian violinist in his early 40s named Jean
Cerutti; his aunt paid for his lessons. In 1871 he drew the attention of
Marie Mauté de Fleurville,[8] who claimed to have been a pupil of
Frédéric Chopin. Debussy always believed her, although there is no
independent evidence to support her claim.[9] His talents soon became
evident, and in 1872, at age ten, Debussy entered the Paris
Street where Debussy
Conservatoire, where he spent the next 11 years. During his time there
was born
he studied composition with Ernest Guiraud, music history/theory with
Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray, harmony with Émile Durand,[10]
piano with Antoine François Marmontel, organ with César Franck, and solfège with Albert
Lavignac, as well as other significant figures of the era. He also became a lifelong friend of fellow
student and distinguished pianist Isidor Philipp. After Debussy's death, many pianists sought
Philipp's advice on playing Debussy's works.

Musical development

Debussy was experimental from the outset, favoring dissonances and intervals that were not taught
at the Academy. Like Georges Bizet, he was a brilliant pianist and an outstanding sight reader, who
could have had a professional career had he so wished.[11] The pieces he played in public at this
time included sonata movements by Beethoven, Schumann and Weber, and Chopin's Ballade No. 2,
a movement from the Piano Concerto No. 1, and the Allegro de concert.[12]

During the summers of 1880, 1881, and 1882, Debussy accompanied Nadezhda von Meck, the
wealthy patroness of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, as she travelled with her family in Europe. The
young composer's many musical activities during these vacations included playing four-hand pieces
with von Meck at the piano, giving music lessons to her children, and performing in private
concerts with some of her musician friends.[13] Despite von Meck's closeness to Tchaikovsky, the
Russian master appears to have had minimal 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, and the manuscript
remained in the von Meck family; it was eventually sold to B. Schott's Sohne in Mainz, and
published by them in 1932.[14]

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A greater influence was Debussy's close friendship with Marie-Blanche Vasnier, a singer he met
when he began working as an accompanist to earn some money, embarking on an eight-year affair
together. She and her husband, Parisian civil servant Henri, gave Debussy emotional and
professional support. Henri 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 (the son-in-law of
his former teacher Mme. Mauté de Fleurville).

As the winner of the 1884 Prix de Rome with his composition

L'enfant prodigue, Debussy received a scholarship to the
Académie des Beaux-Arts, which included a four-year
residence at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, to
further his studies (1885–1887). According to letters to Marie-
Blanche 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". [15]
Neither did he delight in Italian opera, as he found the operas of
Debussy at the Villa Medici in
Donizetti and Verdi not to his taste. Debussy was often
Rome, 1885, at centre in the
depressed and unable to compose, but he was inspired by Franz
white jacket
Liszt, 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!"[16]

Debussy finally composed four pieces that were sent to the Academy: the symphonic ode Zuleima
(based on a text by Heinrich Heine); the orchestral piece Printemps; the cantata La damoiselle élue
(1887–1888) (which was criticized by the Academy as "bizarre", although it was the first piece in
which the stylistic features of Debussy's later style began to emerge); and the Fantaisie for piano
and orchestra, which was heavily based on César Franck's music and therefore eventually
withdrawn by Debussy. The Academy chided him for "courting the unusual" and hoped for
something better from the gifted student. Although Debussy's works showed the influence of Jules
Massenet, Massenet concluded, "He is an enigma."[17]

During his visits to Bayreuth in 1888–9, Debussy was exposed to Wagnerian opera, which would
have a lasting impact on his work. Debussy, like many young musicians of the time, responded
positively to Richard Wagner's sensuousness, mastery of form, and striking harmonies.[18] 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, who proved a kindred spirit in his experimental
approach to composition and to naming his pieces. Both musicians were bohemians during this
period, enjoying the same cafe society and struggling to stay afloat financially.[19]

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In 1889, at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, Debussy first heard Javanese gamelan music. He
incorporated gamelan scales, melodies, rhythms, and ensemble textures into some of his
compositions, most notably Pagodes from his piano collection Estampes.[20]

Personal life
Debussy's private life was often turbulent. At the age of 18 he
began an eight-year affair with Marie-Blanche Vasnier, the wife
of Parisian civil servant Henri. The relationship eventually
faltered following his winning of the Prix de Rome in 1884 and
obligatory residence in Rome.

On his permanent return to Paris and his parents' home on the

rue de Berlin (now rue de Liège) he began a tempestuous
relationship with Gabrielle ('Gaby') Dupont, a tailor's daughter
from Lisieux, soon cohabiting with her on the rue de Londres,
and later the rue Gustave Doré. During this time he also had an
affair with the singer Thérèse Roger, to whom he was briefly
engaged. Such cavalier behaviour was widely condemned, and
precipitated the end of his long friendship with Ernest Debussy, by Marcel Baschet,
Chausson. 1884

He ultimately left Dupont for her friend Rosalie ('Lilly') Texier,

a fashion model whom he married in 1899, after threatening suicide if she refused him. [21]
However, although Texier was affectionate, practical, straightforward, and well liked by Debussy's
friends and associates, he would become increasingly irritated by her intellectual limitations and
lack of musical sensitivity. Moreover, her looks had prematurely aged, and she was unable to bear

In 1904 Debussy was introduced to Emma Bardac, wife of Parisian banker Sigismond Bardac, by
her son Raoul, who was one of his students.[23] In contrast to Texier, Bardac was a sophisticate, a
brilliant conversationalist, and an accomplished singer. After dispatching Lilly to her father's home
at Bichain in Villeneuve-la-Guyard on 15 July 1904, Debussy secretly took Bardac to Jersey for a
holiday. On their return to France, Debussy wrote to Texier on 11 August from Dieppe, informing
her that their marriage was over, but still making no mention of Bardac. Debussy briefly moved to
an apartment at 10 avenue Alphand. On 14 October, five days before their fifth wedding
anniversary, Texier attempted suicide, shooting herself in the chest with a revolver while standing
in the Place de la Concorde; she survived, although the bullet remained lodged in her vertebrae for
the rest of her life. The ensuing scandal was to alienate Debussy from many of his friends, whilst
Bardac was disowned by her family.[24]

In the spring of 1905, finding the hostility towards them intolerable, Debussy and Bardac (now
pregnant) fled to England, via Jersey.[26] Bardac's divorce was finalized in May.[27] The couple

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settled at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, from 24 July to 30 August

1905,[28] where Debussy was to correct proofs to his symphonic suite
La mer,[4][24] celebrating his divorce from Texier on 2 August.

After a brief visit to London, the couple returned to Paris in September,

buying a house in a courtyard development off the Avenue du Bois de
Boulogne (now Avenue Foch) where Debussy would reside for the rest
of his life.[29] Their daughter (the composer's only child)
Claude-Emma was born there on 30 October.[24] Her parents were
eventually married in 1908, their troubled union enduring until
Debussy's last home, now Debussy's death in 1918. Claude-Emma, more affectionately known as
23 Square Avenue Foch, 'Chouchou', was a great musical inspiration to Debussy (she was the
dedicatee of his Children's Corner suite). Claude-Emma outlived her
father by scarcely a year, succumbing to the diphtheria epidemic of
1919 after her doctor administered the wrong treatment.[30]

Mary Garden, who played the part of Melisande in the original production of Pelléas et Mélisande
in 1902, was to write of him: "I honestly don’t know if Debussy ever loved anybody really. He
loved his music – and perhaps himself. I think he was wrapped up in his genius... He was a very,
very strange man." [31]

Debussy died of rectal cancer at his Paris home on 25 March
1918,[32] at the age of 55. He had been diagnosed with the
cancer in 1909[24] after experiencing haemorrhaging, and in
December 1915 underwent one of the earliest colostomy
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 Debussy's grave at Passy
Offensive of World War I. The funeral procession made its way Cemetery in Paris
through deserted streets to Père Lachaise Cemetery as the
German guns bombarded the city. The military situation in
France was critical, and did not permit the honour of a public funeral with ceremonious graveside
orations. Debussy's body was reinterred the following year in the small Passy Cemetery sequestered
behind the Trocadéro, fulfilling his wish to rest 'among the trees and the birds'; his wife and
daughter are buried with him.[27]


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Rudolph Reti points out the following 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 Chords, featuring chromatically
not harmonies at all, but rather 'chordal melodies', altered sevenths and ninths and
enriched unisons", described by some writers as progressing unconventionally,
non-functional harmonies; explored by Debussy in a "celebrated
3. Bitonality, or at least bitonal chords; conversation at the piano with his
4. Use of the whole-tone and pentatonic scale; teacher Ernest Guiraud".[33]
5. Unprepared modulations, "without any harmonic

He concludes that Debussy's achievement was the synthesis of monophonic based "melodic
tonality" with harmonies, albeit different from those of "harmonic tonality".[34]

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
[J.M.W.] Turner, the finest creator of mysterious effects in all the world of art."[35]

List of works

List of compositions by Claude Debussy by genre

List of compositions by Claude Debussy by Lesure number

Early works

From the 1890s Debussy began to develop his own musical language, which was largely
independent of Wagner's style, coloured in part from the dreamy, sometimes morbid, romanticism
of the Symbolist movement. Debussy became a frequent participant at Stéphane Mallarmé's
Symbolist gatherings, where Wagnerism dominated the discussion. However, in contrast to the
enormous works of Wagner and other late romantic composers around this time, Debussy chose to
write in smaller, more accessible forms.

The Deux arabesques is an example of one of Debussy's earliest works, already developing his
musical language. Suite bergamasque (1890) recalls rococo decorousness with a modern cynicism
and puzzlement, and contains one of Debussy's most popular pieces, Clair de Lune. Debussy's

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String Quartet in G minor (1893) paved the way for his later
more daring harmonic exploration, using the Phrygian mode 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, breaking away
from the traditional A-B-A form with its restatements and
amplifications, which had been a mainstay of classical music
since Haydn.

Debussy wrote one of his most famous works under the

influence of Mallarmé, the revolutionary Prélude à l'après-midi
d'un faune, which is truly original in form and execution. In
Debussy at the piano, in front of
contrast to the large orchestras so favoured by late romanticism,
the composer Ernest Chausson,
Debussy wrote this piece for a smaller ensemble, emphasizing
instrumental colour and timbre. Despite Mallarmé himself and
colleague and friend Paul Dukas having been impressed by the
piece, it was controversial at its premiere, but nevertheless established Debussy as one of the
leading composers of the era.

Middle works

The three Nocturnes (1899) include characteristic studies: in Nuages, using veiled harmony and
texture; Fêtes, in exuberance; and Sirènes, using whole-tones. Debussy's only complete opera
Pelléas et Mélisande premiered in 1902, after ten years of work, and contrasted sharply with
Wagnerian opera. Based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck, the opera proved to be an immediate
success and immensely influential to younger French composers, including Maurice Ravel. These
works brought a fluidity of rhythm and colour quite new to Western music.

La mer (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. The reviews were once again sharply divided. Some critics thought the
treatment to be less subtle and less mysterious than his previous works, and even a step backward,
with Pierre Lalo complaining "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

Debussy wrote much for the piano during this period. His first volume of Images pour piano
(1904–1905) combines harmonic innovation with poetic suggestion: Reflets dans l'eau is a musical
description of rippling water, whilst second piece Hommage à Rameau is slow and yearningly
nostalgic, taking a melody from Jean-Philippe Rameau's 1737 Castor et Pollux as its inspiration.

The evocative Estampes for piano (1903) give impressions of exotic locations. Debussy came into
contact with Javanese gamelan music during the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. Pagodes is the
directly inspired result, aiming for an evocation of the pentatonic structures employed by Javanese

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Debussy wrote his famous Children's Corner 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'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 by mimicking the opening
bars of Wagner's prelude to Tristan und Isolde.

The first book of Préludes (1910), twelve in total, proved to be his most successful work for piano.
The Preludes are frequently compared to those of Chopin. 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), although since Debussy
wanted people to respond intuitively to these pieces, their titles were placed at the end of each one
in the hope that listeners would not make stereotype images as they listened.

Larger scale works included his orchestral piece Iberia (1907), a triptych medley of Spanish
allusions and fleeting impressions which was begun as a work for two pianos, and also the music
for Gabriele D'Annunzio's mystery play Le martyre de Saint Sébastien (1911). A lush and dramatic
work, written in only two months, it is remarkable in sustaining a late antique modal atmosphere
that otherwise was touched only in relatively short piano pieces.

As Debussy gained in popularity, he was often engaged as a conductor throughout Europe during
this period, 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, writing under
the pseudonym "Monsieur Croche". Debussy avoided analytical dissection and attempts to force
images from music, saying "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[38] and Stravinsky,
and worshipful of Chopin and Bach, the latter being acknowledged as "the one great master."[39]
His relationship to Beethoven was a complex one; he was said to refer to him as "le vieux sourd"
(the old deaf one)[40] and adjured one young pupil never to play Beethoven's music for "it is like
somebody dancing on my grave."[40] It was said that "Debussy liked Mozart, and he believed that
Beethoven had terrifically profound things to say, but that he did not know how to say them,
because he was imprisoned in a web of incessant restatement and of German aggressiveness."[40]
He also admired the works of Charles-Valentin Alkan.[41] Schubert and Mendelssohn fared much
worse, the latter being described as a "facile and elegant notary".[42]

Late works

Debussy's harmonies and chord progressions frequently exploit dissonances without any formal
resolution. Unlike in his earlier work, he no longer hides discords in lush harmonies, [43] and the
forms are far more irregular and fragmented.[44] These chords that seemingly had no resolution

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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 dominates much of Debussy's late music.

His two final volumes of works for the piano, the Études (1915), interpret similar varieties of style
and texture purely as pianistic exercises, and include pieces that develop irregular form to an
extreme, as well as others influenced by the young Igor Stravinsky (a presence too in the suite En
blanc et noir for two pianos, 1915).[45] 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 (1917), there remains an undeniable richness in the
chords themselves. This shift parallels the movement commonly
known as neo-classicism, which became popular after Debussy's death
in 1918. Debussy planned a set of six sonatas, but had only completed
three (cello, flute-viola-harp, and violin) before he died.

The final orchestral work by Debussy, the ballet Jeux (1912) written
for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, 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 Caplet and Debussy
Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, which was composed in the same year
as Jeux, and was premiered only two weeks later by the same ballet
company. Decades later, composers such as Pierre Boulez and Jean Barraqué pointed out parallels
to Anton Webern's serialism 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 and André
Caplet, who also helped Debussy with the orchestration of Gigues (from Images pour orchestre)
and Le martyre de St. Sébastien.[46]

The second set of Préludes for piano (1913) features Debussy at his most avant-garde, where he
uses dissonant harmonies to evoke specific moods and images. Debussy consciously gives titles to
each prelude which amplify the preludes' tonal ambiguity and dissonance. He uses scales such as
the whole tone scale, musical modes, and the octatonic scale in his preludes which 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
0:00 MENU
remained unfinished, perhaps due to his fading
concentration, increasing procrastination, and failing
Beau Soir
health. He had finished some partial musical

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sketches and some unpublished libretti for operas

based on Poe's The Devil in the Belfry (Le diable Le Petit Negre
dans le beffroi, 1902–?1912) and The Fall of the
House of Usher (La chute de la maison Usher, Arranged by Anne DeBlois,
1908–1917) as well as considering projects for performed by the Advent
operas based on Shakespeare's As You Like It and Chamber Orchestra
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
Performed by Sarah
re-publication, were all cut short by poor health and Bassingthwaite
the outbreak of World War 1.
La plus que lente
Mathematical structuring

Some people have claimed that Debussy structured

Danse Sacrée
parts of his music mathematically.[47][48] Roy
Howat, for instance, has published a book
contending that Debussy's works are structured Performed by the United States
around mathematical models even while using an Marine Corps Chamber Orchestra.
Chamber orchestra arrangement
apparent classical structure such as sonata form. of the Chamber music piece
Howat suggests that some of Debussy's pieces can be scored for string quintet.
divided into sections that reflect the golden ratio,
frequently by using the numbers of the standard Danse Profane
Fibonacci sequence.[49]
Performed by the United States
Influences Marine Corps Chamber Orchestra.
Chamber orchestra arrangement
Debussy's influences of the Chamber music piece
scored for string quintet.
were wide-ranging. He
acquired a taste for La fille aux cleveux de lin
parallel motion in fifths,
fourths and octaves
from medieval music, Performed by Wasei Dúo.
and an appreciation for
figuration and arabesque Menuet Nº3 de la petite Suite
from the Baroque
masters. He especially Performed by Wasei Dúo
had a great love for the
Claude Debussy, by
French clavier Prelude XII (...Feux d´artifice)
Donald Sheridan Deuxième livre
composers Couperin
and Rameau, as well as
J.S. Bach. Chopin and Liszt were also powerful Performed by Patrizia Prati
influences, not only in terms of pianistic layout and

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harmonic ingenuity, but also because of their Moonlight - Clair de Lune

willingness to create new forms to accommodate
their material.
Performed by Wikiversity - Jason
Among the Russian composers of his time, the most M. C., Han
prominent influences were Tchaikovsky, Balakirev,
Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Mussorgsky.[18][50] Problems playing these files? See media
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."[18] 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.' "[18]

After Debussy's Wagner phase, he started to become immensely interested in non-Western music
and its unorthodox approaches to composition. Specifically, he was drawn to the Javanese
Gamelan: a musical ensemble from the island of 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 interested in directly quoting his non-Western influences, but instead
allowed this non-Western aesthetic to generally influence his own musical work, for example, by
frequently using quiet, unresolved dissonances, coupled with the damper pedal, to emulate the
"shimmering" effect created by a gamelan ensemble.

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 of the 1880s, which
encompassed poetry, visual art, and theatre. He shared the movement's interest in the esoteric and
indefinite and their 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."[18] Debussy became personally acquainted with writers and painters
of the movement, and based some of his own works on those of the symbolists. The poet Stéphane
Mallarmé was a major influence, who in talking of "a 'musicalization' of poetry"[18] laid claim to a
strong connection between music and his own poetry. Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
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.

Above all, Debussy was inspired by nature and the impression it made on the mind, making a
pantheistic profession of faith when he called "mysterious Nature" his religion. 'I do not practice
religion in accordance with the sacred rites. I have made mysterious Nature my religion. I do not
believe that a man is any nearer to God for being clad in priestly garments, nor that one place in a
town is better adapted to meditation than another. When I gaze at a sunset sky and spend hours

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contemplating its marvellous ever-changing beauty, an extraordinary emotion overwhelms me.

Nature in all its vastness is truthfully reflected in my sincere though feeble soul. Around me are the
trees stretching up their branches to the skies, the perfumed flowers gladdening the meadow, the
gentle grass-carpeted earth, ... and my hands unconsciously assume an attitude of adoration. ... To
feel the supreme and moving beauty of the spectacle to which Nature invites her ephemeral guests!
... that is what I call prayer.'[51]

Contemporary painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler (who lived in France for a period of time)
had a profound influence on Debussy. In 1894, Debussy wrote to violinist Eugène Ysaÿe 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."[52] 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

Influence on later composers

Claude Debussy is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century.
His innovative harmonies were influential to almost every major composer of the 20th century,
particularly Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Olivier Messiaen, Béla Bartók, Pierre Boulez, Henri
Dutilleux, Ned Rorem, George Gershwin, and the minimalist music of Steve Reich and Philip Glass
as well as the influential Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. He also influenced many important
figures in jazz, most notably Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Bix Beiderbecke, George Shearing,
Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Jimmy Giuffre, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Django Reinhardt, and
Herbie Hancock. He also had a profound impact on contemporary soundtrack composers such as
John Williams, because Debussy's colourful and evocative style translated easily into an emotional
language for use in motion picture scores.

A number of posthumous discoveries bear Debussy's name.
These include:

Debussy Heights, a minor mountain range on Alexander

Island, Antarctica, which was discovered in 1960 –
including Ravel Peak
Debussy, an impact crater on Mercury which was A twenty-franc banknote from
discovered in 1969 1997, depicting Debussy
Debussy, an Irish thoroughbred race horse
4492 Debussy, a main belt asteroid which was discovered
in 1988


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In 1904, Debussy participated in a handful of recordings made together with soprano Mary Garden.
He also made some piano rolls for Welte Mignon in 1913.[53]


1. Born Achille-Claude Debussy, he reversed his forenames to Claude-Achille in later life.

2. Claude Debussy ( – pronunciation at
3. Politoske, Daniel T.; Martin Werner (1988). Music, Fourth Edition. Prentice Hall. p. 419.
ISBN 0-13-607616-5.
4. "Claude Debussy – Biographie : 1903–1909 – Centre de documentation Claude Debussy".
Retrieved 10 March 2010.
5. Claude Debussy – Biography (
/biography) at AllMusic
6. Schmitz, E. Robert. The Piano Works of Claude Debussy (
/books?id=_r2fAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA23). Duell, Sloan & Pierce, 1950. pp. 23–26.
7. Hartmann, Arthur; Hsu, Samuel; Grolnic, Sidney; Peters, Mark A. (2003). "Claude Debussy as I Knew
Him" and Other Writings of Arthur Hartmann. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 1-58046-104-2.
8. Leon Vallas (March 2007). Claude Debussy: His Life and Works. Lightning Source Inc. pp. 4–.
ISBN 978-1-4067-5912-9. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
9. David Mason Greene (2007). Greene's biographical encyclopedia of composers. Reproducing Piano
Roll Fnd. pp. 904–. ISBN 978-0-385-14278-6. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
10. "Centre de documentation Claude Debussy". Retrieved 22 August 2013.
11. Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists, p. 343
12. "Concerts where Debussy appeared as a pianist". Retrieved 10 March 2010.
13. Edward Lockspeiser, Debussy: His Life and Mind, vol. 1, The Macmillan Company, 1962, pp 40–47.
14. Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man, p. 375
15. Thompson, p. 70
16. Thompson, p. 77
17. Thompson, p. 82
18. François Lesure and Roy Howat. "Debussy, Claude." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 14
December 2009 (
19. Moore, Stephen (1999). Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall. Oxford University Press.
p. 172.
20. Brent Hugh. "Claude Debussy and the Javanese Gamelan". Retrieved 2 July 2014.
21. Nichols, R. (1998) The Life of Debussy. Cambridge University Press, 196 pages.
22. Orledge, R. 'Debussy the man', in Trezise, S. (ed.) (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Debussy. p.4.
Cambridge University Press, UK. ISBN 9780521654784
23. Leon Vallas (March 2007). Claude Debussy: His Life and Works. Lightning Source Inc. pp. 169–.
ISBN 978-1-4067-5912-9. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
24. Diane Enget Moore (2005). Debussy in Jersey. The Centenary, 1904–2004 [1] (
25. "23 Square Avenue Foch 75116 Paris, France". Google Maps. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
26. Claude Achille Debussy ( Archived
March 17, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
27. Simeone, N. (2000). Paris – A musical Gazetteer. Yale University Press, USA.
28. Eastbourne Local Historian (Eastbourne Local History Society) Nr 157 (Autumn 2010).

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Claude Debussy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

29. "Claude Debussy's residence". Retrieved 22 August 2013.

30. "Tobin, A. (2012). ''Claude Debussy's Pianistic Vision''". Retrieved 22 August 2013.
31. Garden, M. & Biancolli, L. (1951). Mary Garden's Story. 302 p. Simon & Schuster, New York.
32. Debussy, Claude Achille ( The Columbia
Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Columbia University Press. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
33. Edward Lockspeiser (1962). Debussy: His Life and Mind, p. 207. ISBN 0-304-91878-4 for Vol. 1. cited
in Roland Nadeau (1979), "Debussy and the Crisis of Tonality", p. 71, Music Educators Journal,
Vol. 66, No. 1 (September), pp. 69–73.
34. Rudolph Reti, Tonality, Atonality, Pantonality, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-20478-0.
35. Thompson, p. 161
36. Thompson, pp. 158–59
37. Brent Hugh. "Claude Debussy and the Javanese Gamelan". Retrieved 27 January 2007.
38. Claude Debussy (1962). Monsieur Croche the Dilettante Hater.
39. Francois Lesure (1988). Debussy on Music The Critical Writings of the Great French Composer Claude
40. Roger Nichols (2003). Debussy Remembered [2] (
41. "The Myths of Alkan". Jack Gibbons. Retrieved 10 March 2010.
42. Thompson, pp. 180–85
43. Mark McFarland, "Transpositional Combination and Aggregate Formation in Debussy," Music Theory
Spectrum 27 no. 2 (Fall 2005): 187–220
44. Mark McFarland, "Debussy: The Origins of a Method," Journal of Music Theory 48 no. 2 (Fall 2004):
45. Mark McFarland, "Debussy and Stravinsky: Another Look into their Musical Relationship," Cahiers
Debussy 24 (2000): 79–112
46. Barraqué, Jean (1977). Debussy (Solfèges). Paris: Editions du Seuil. ISBN 2-02-000242-6.
47. "Golden Ratio". Retrieved 22 August 2013.
48. [3] (
49. Howat, Roy (1983). Debussy in Proportion: A musical analysis. Cambridge University Press.
ISBN 0-521-31145-4.
50. Poleshook, Oksana. 2011 Russian Musical Influences of The Five on piano and vocal works of Claude
Debussy LAP Lambert Publishing. ISBN 978-3-8443-1643-8
51. Léon Vallas (1933). Claude Debussy: His Life and Works. Oxford University Press, H. Milford. p. 225.
52. Weintraub, Stanley. 2001. Whistler: a biography (New York: Da Capo Press). ISBN 978-0-306-80971-2.
p. 351
53. "Steve's Debussy Page". 1 November 1913. Retrieved 10 December 2015.

Thompson, Oscar, Debussy: Man and Artist, Tudor Publishing Company, 1940.

Further reading
Fulcher, Jane (ed.) (2001). Debussy and His World (The Bard Music Festival). Princeton:
Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09042-4.

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Lücke, Hendrik (2005): Mallarmé, Debussy: Eine vergleichende Studie zur Kunstanschauung
am Beispiel von „L'Après-midi d'un Faune“. Schriftenreihe Studien zur Musikwissenschaft 4.
Hamburg: Dr. Kovac. ISBN 3-8300-1685-9.
Nichols, R. (1998) The Life of Debussy (Cambridge, 1998).
Parks, R. S. (1989). The Music of Claude Debussy (New Haven).
Pasler, Jann (December 2013). "Debussey: the Man, his Music, and His Legacy: an overview
of current Research". Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association. 69 (2):
Poleshook, Oksana (2011). Russian Musical Influences of The Five on piano and vocal works
of Claude Debussy. LAP Lambert Publishing. ISBN 978-3-8443-1643-8.
Roberts, Paul (ed.) (2001). Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy. Amadeus Press.
ISBN 1-57467-068-9.
Roberts, Paul (ed.) (2007). Claude Debussy (20th Century Composers). Phaidon Press Ltd.
ISBN 0-7148-3512-9.
Ross, James. 1998. "Pelléas et Mélisande: The 'Nouveau Prophete'? Crisis and
Transformation: French Opera, Politics and the Press" D.Phil. Thesis, Oxford University.
pp. 164–208.
Smith, R. L. (ed.) (1997). Debussy Studies (Cambridge).
Trezise, Simon (ed.) (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Debussy. Cambridge Companions
to Music. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-65478-5.
Cobb, Margaret (ed.) (2005). Debussy's Letters to Inghelbrecht – The Story of a Musical
Friendship. University of Rochester Press. ISBN 1-58046-174-3.
Miller, Richard (ed.) (Editor: Cobb, Margaret) (1982). Poetic Debussy 2nd Edition. University
of Rochester Press. ISBN 1-878822349.

External links
Claude Debussy (
/D/Debussy%2C_Claude-Achille/) at DMOZ
"Debussy material". BBC Radio 3 archives.
Claude Debussy ( at AllMusic
Claude Debussy Catalogue chronologique (
/debccat.htm) (French)
Documentary film about Claude Debussy (
Works by Claude Debussy (,+Claude) at Project
Works by or about Claude Debussy (
/search.php?query=%28+Debussy+%29) at Internet Archive
Works by Claude Debussy ( at Open Library
Free scores by Claude Debussy ( in
the Open Music Library (
Free scores by Claude Debussy at the International Music Score Library Project
Free scores by Claude Debussy in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)

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Claude Debussy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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