You are on page 1of 27

Wiki Loves Earth photography contest in Brazil

Upload photos of protected natural areas in Brazil, help Wikipedia, and win!
Claude Debussy
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Debussy" redirects here. For other uses, see Debussy (disambiguation).

Claude Debussy in 1908

Achille-Claude Debussy (French: [ail klod dbysi],[1] 22 August 1862 25 March 1918), known since
the 1890s as Claude-Achille Debussy or Claude Debussy,[2] 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 1903.[4] He 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

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

1Early life
o 1.1Musical development
2Personal life
o 4.1Style
o 4.2List of works
o 4.3Early works
o 4.4Middle works
o 4.5Late works
o 4.6Mathematical structuring
o 4.7Influences
o 4.8Influence on later composers
9Further reading
10External links

Early life[edit]

Street where Debussy was born

Debussy, the eldest of five children, was born Achille-Claude Debussy (he later reversed his
forenames)[2] on 22 August 1862 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. 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. At the age of seven, he began
piano lessons with an Italian violinist in his early 40s named Jean Cerutti, and his aunt paid for his
lessons. In 1871 he drew the attention of Marie Maut de Fleurville, [8] who claimed to have been a
pupil of Frdric 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 Conservatoire, where he spent the next 11 years. During his time there he studied
composition with Ernest Guiraud, music history/theory with Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray,
harmony with mile Durand,[10] piano with Antoine Franois Marmontel, organ with Csar Franck,
and solfge 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 his works.

Musical development[edit]
Debussy was experimental from the outset, favouring 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, he 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[citation needed] to Tchaikovsky, the Russian
master appears[to whom?] to have had minimal effect on Debussy.[citation needed] In September 1880 she sent
his Danse bohmienne 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

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. Maut de Fleurville).

Debussy at the Villa Medici in Rome, 1885, at centre in the white jacket
As the winner of the 1884 Prix de Rome with his composition L'enfant prodigue, he received a
scholarship to the Acadmie des Beaux-Arts, which included a four-year residence at the Villa
Medici, the French Academy in Rome, to further his studies (18851887). 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".
Neither did he delight in Italian opera, as he found the operas of Donizettiand Verdi not to his
taste. Debussy was often depressed and unable to compose, but he was inspired by Franz Liszt,
whose command of the keyboard he found admirable. In June 1885, he 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 lue (18871888) (which was criticized by the Academy as "bizarre", although it was the
first piece in which the stylistic features of his later style began to emerge); and the Fantaisie for
piano and orchestra, which was heavily based on Csar 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]

Pieces from Ariettes


No. 2: "Il pleure dans mon




No 4: "Chevaux de bois"



No. 6: "Aquarelles II.



All performed by Xiaobo Su,
soprano; Giorgi Latso, piano

Problems playing these files? See media


During his visits to Bayreuth in 18889, Debussy was exposed to Wagnerian opera, which would
have a lasting impact on his work. Like many young musicians of the time, he 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 lue and the 1889 piece Cinq pomes de Charles Baudelaire. Other songs of the period,
notably the settings of Verlaine Ariettes oublies, Trois mlodies, and Ftes galantes are all in a
more capricious style.

Around this time he 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]

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[edit]

Debussy, by Marcel Baschet, 1884

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 Vasnier. 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 Lige) he
began a tempestuous relationship with Gabrielle ('Gaby') Dupont, a tailor's daughter from Lisieux,
soon living with her on the rue de Londres, and later the rue Gustave Dor. During this time he also
had an affair with the singer Thrse Roger, to whom he was briefly engaged. Such cavalier
behaviour was widely condemned, and precipitated the end of his long friendship with Ernest

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 became
increasingly irritated by her intellectual limitations and lack of musical sensitivity. Moreover, her looks
had prematurely aged, and she was unable to bear children. [22]

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, he wrote to Texier on 11 August from Dieppe, informing her that
their marriage was over, but still making no mention of Bardac. He 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]

Debussy's last home, now 23 Square Avenue Foch, Paris [25]

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 settled
at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, from 24 July to 30 August 1905, [28] where Debussy corrected 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
resided 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 eventually married in 1908, their troubled union enduring until
Debussy's death in 1918. Claude-Emma, more affectionately known as 'Chouchou', was a great
musical inspiration to the composer (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 Pellas et Mlisande in
1902, was to write of him: "I honestly dont 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's grave at Passy Cemetery in Paris

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 bleeding, 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 Offensive of World War I. The funeral procession
made its way through deserted streets to Pre 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. His body was reinterred the following year in the small Passy
Cemetery sequestered behind the Trocadro, fulfilling his wish to rest "among the trees and the
birds"; his wife and daughter are buried with him. [27]


Chords, featuring chromatically altered sevenths and ninths and progressing unconventionally, explored by
Debussy in a "celebrated conversation at the piano with his teacher Ernest Guiraud" [33]
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
2. Frequent use of parallel chords which are "in essence not harmonies at all, but rather
'chordal melodies', enriched unisons", described by some writers as non-functional
3. Bitonality, or at least bitonal chords;
4. Use of the whole-tone and pentatonic scale;
5. Unprepared modulations, "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". [34][page needed]

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 the composer 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[edit]
Clair de Lune


Composed in 1890,
performed by Laurens
Goedhart in 2011 (5:04)

Premire Arabesque (4:53)



Deuxime Arabesque (4:00)


Both arabesques performed
in 2016 by Patrizia Prati on

Problems playing these files? See media


List of compositions by Claude Debussy by genre (with audio)

List of compositions by Claude Debussy by Lesure number (without audio)
Early works[edit]
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. He became a frequent participant at Stphane Mallarm'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, he chose to write in smaller,
more accessible forms.

Debussy at the piano, in front of the composer Ernest Chausson, 1893
The Deux arabesques is an example of one of his earliest works, already developing his musical
language. Suite bergamasque (1890) recalls rococo decorousness with a modern cynicism and
puzzlement, and contains one of his most popular pieces, Clair de Lune. His 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. He was beginning to employ a single, continuous theme, breaking away from the
traditional ABA 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 Mallarm, the
revolutionary Prlude l'aprs-midi d'un faune, which is truly original in form and execution. In
contrast to the large orchestras so favoured by late romanticism, he wrote this piece for a smaller
ensemble, emphasizing instrumental colour and timbre. Despite Mallarm 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[edit]
The three Nocturnes (1899) include characteristic studies: in Nuages, using veiled harmony and
texture; Ftes, in exuberance; and Sirnes, using whole-tones. Debussy's only complete
opera Pellas et Mlisande 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 (19031905) 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 lines. [36]

He wrote much for the piano during this period. His first volume of Images pour piano (19041905)
combines harmonic innovation with poetic suggestion: Reflets dans l'eau is a musical description of
rippling water, while the second piece Hommage 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

He 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.

Pieces from first book

of Preludes

La fille aux cheveux de lin


Performed by Mike Ambrose

La cathdrale engloutie


Performed by Ivan Ilic

Problems playing these files? See media


The first book of Prludes (1910), twelve in total, proved to be his most successful work for piano.
The Preludes are frequently compared to those of Chopin.[clarification needed Which set?] 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 Cathdrale Engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral), although
since he 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 Sbastien (1911). A lush and dramatic work, written
in only two months, it is remarkable in sustaining a late antique modalatmosphere that was
otherwise touched only in relatively short piano pieces.

As Debussy's popularity increased, he was often engaged as a conductor throughout Europe during
this period, most often performing Pellas, La Mer, and Prlude l'aprs-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". He 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. He
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[edit]
This section needs additional or better citations for verification. Please
help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced
material may be challenged and removed. (October 2010) (Learn how and when to
remove this template message)

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 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 his late music.

His two final volumes of works for the piano, the tudes (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 pomes de Mallarm (1913), and of the Sonata for flute, viola and harp (1915), though the
sonata and its companions also recapture the inquisitive Verlainian classicism.

Caplet and Debussy

With the sonatas of 19151917 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

his death in 1918. He 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 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
Barraqu pointed out parallels to Anton Webern's serialism in this work.

Other late stage works, including the ballets Khamma (1912) and La bote joujoux (1913), were left
with the orchestration incomplete, and were later completed by Charles Koechlin and Andr Caplet,
who also helped him with the orchestration of Gigues (from Images pour orchestre) and Le martyre
de St. Sbastien.[46]

The second set of Prludes for piano (1913) features Debussy at his most avant-garde, where he
uses dissonant harmonies to evoke specific moods and images. He 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 his strong interest in the indefinite and esoteric.

Pieces from second book

of Preludes




Feuilles mortes



La puerta del Vino



Les fes sont d'exquises







Gnral Lavine eccentric



La terrasse des audiences du

clair de lune






Hommage S. Pickwick
Esq. P.P.M.P.C.






Les tierces alternes



Feux d'artifice



Problems playing these files? See media


Although Pellas was Debussy's only completed opera, he began several opera projects which
remained unfinished, perhaps due to his fading concentration, increasing procrastination, and failing
health. He had finished some partial musical sketches and some unpublished libretti for operas
based on Poe's The Devil in the Belfry (Le diable dans le beffroi, 1902?1912) and The Fall of the
House of Usher (La chute de la maison Usher, 19081917) as well as considering projects for
operas based on Shakespeare's As You Like It 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 poor health and the outbreak of World War I.

Mathematical structuring[edit]
Some people have contended that Debussy structured parts of his music mathematically. [47][48] Roy
Howat, for instance, has published a book contending that Debussy's works are structured around
mathematical models even while using an apparent classical structure such as sonata form. Howat
suggests that some of Debussy's pieces can be divided into sections that reflect the golden ratio,
frequently by using the numbers of the standard Fibonacci sequence.[49]

Debussy's influences were wide-ranging. He acquired a taste for parallel motion in fifths, fourths and
octaves from medieval music,[citation needed] and an appreciation for figuration and arabesque from the
Baroque masters. He especially had a great love for the French clavier composers Couperin[clarification
needed Franois Couperin?]
and Rameau, as well as J. S. Bach. Chopin and Liszt were also powerful influences,
not only in terms of pianistic layout and harmonic ingenuity, but also because of their willingness to
create new forms to accommodate their material. [citation needed]

Among the Russian composers of his time, the most prominent influences were Tchaikovsky[clarification
needed This seems to contradict what it says in the 'Early Life' section]
, Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Mussorgsky.[18][50] 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". [attribution needed][18] Mussorgsky's opera Boris
Godunov directly influenced one of Debussy's most famous works, Pellas et Mlisande.[citation needed] 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]

Claude Debussy, by Donald Sheridan
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:[51] 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. He 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. He 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 him to think about
issues of musical form."[18] He became personally acquainted with writers and painters of the
movement, and based some of his own works on those of the symbolists. The poet Stphane
Mallarm 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. His Prlude l'aprs-midi d'un faune was
directly influenced by Mallarm'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, he 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
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.'[52]

Contemporary painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler (who lived in France between 1855 and 1859)
had a profound influence on the composer. In 1894, Debussy wrote to violinist Eugne
Ysae 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." [53]

Influence on later composers[edit]

Debussy is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. [54] His
innovative harmonies were influential to almost every other major 20th-century composer,
particularly Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Olivier Messiaen, Bla Bartk, Pierre Boulez, Heitor
Villa-Lobos, 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 jazz musicians, including Duke Ellington, Bix Beiderbecke, Branford Marsalis,
and Steve Kuhn.[55] He also had a profound impact on modern 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 twenty-franc banknote from 1997, depicting Debussy

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 discovered in 1969
Debussy, an Irish thoroughbred race horse
4492 Debussy, a main belt asteroid which was discovered in 1988

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.[56]

1. Jump up^ Claude Debussy pronunciation at
2. ^ Jump up to:a b Born Achille-Claude Debussy, he was known as "Achille" during his student
days, changed his forename to "Claude-Achille" around 1890, and after 1894 was known simply as
"Claude Debussy" (Fulcher, Jane F. Debussy and His World. Princeton University Press, 2001. p.

3. Jump up^ Politoske, Daniel T.; Martin Werner (1988). Music, Fourth Edition. Prentice Hall.
p. 419. ISBN 0-13-607616-5.
4. ^ Jump up to:a b "Claude Debussy Biographie : 19031909 Centre de documentation
Claude Debussy". Retrieved 10 March 2010.
5. Jump up^ Claude Debussy Biography at AllMusic
6. Jump up^ Schmitz, E. Robert. The Piano Works of Claude Debussy. Duell, Sloan & Pierce,
1950. pp. 2326.
7. Jump up^ 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-
8. Jump up^ 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. Jump up^ 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. Jump up^ "Centre de documentation Claude Debussy". Retrieved 22
August 2013.
11. Jump up^ Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists, p. 343
12. Jump up^ "Concerts where Debussy appeared as a pianist". Retrieved 10
13. Jump up^ Edward Lockspeiser, Debussy: His Life and Mind, vol. 1, The Macmillan Company,
1962, pp 4047.
14. Jump up^ Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man, p. 375
15. Jump up^ Thompson, p. 70
16. Jump up^ Thompson, p. 77
17. Jump up^ Thompson, p. 82
18. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f Franois Lesure and Roy Howat. "Debussy, Claude." Grove Music
Online. Oxford Music Online. 14 December 2009
19. Jump up^ Moore, Stephen (1999). Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall.
Oxford University Press. p. 172.
20. Jump up^ Brent Hugh. "Claude Debussy and the Javanese Gamelan".
Retrieved 2 July 2014.
21. Jump up^ Nichols, R. (1998) The Life of Debussy. Cambridge University Press, 196 pages.
22. Jump up^ Orledge, R. 'Debussy the man', in Trezise, S. (ed.) (2003). The Cambridge
Companion to Debussy. p.4. Cambridge University Press, UK. ISBN 9780521654784
23. Jump up^ 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. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Diane Enget Moore (2005). Debussy in Jersey. The Centenary, 1904
2004 [1].
25. Jump up^ "23 Square Avenue Foch 75116 Paris, France". Google Maps. Retrieved 11
June 2015.
26. Jump up^ Claude Achille Debussy Archived 17 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
27. ^ Jump up to:a b Simeone, N. (2000). Paris A musical Gazetteer. Yale University Press, USA.
28. Jump up^ Eastbourne Local Historian (Eastbourne Local History Society) Nr 157 (Autumn
29. Jump up^ "Claude Debussy's residence". Retrieved 22 August 2013.
30. Jump up^ "Tobin, A. (2012). ''Claude Debussy's Pianistic Vision''".
Retrieved 22 August 2013.
31. Jump up^ Garden, M. & Biancolli, L. (1951). Mary Garden's Story. 302 p. Simon & Schuster,
New York.
32. Jump up^ Debussy, Claude Achille The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Columbia
University Press. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
33. Jump up^ 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. 6973.
34. Jump up^ Rudolph Reti, Tonality, Atonality, Pantonality, Westport, CT: Greenwood
Press. ISBN 0-313-20478-0.
35. Jump up^ Thompson, p. 161
36. Jump up^ Thompson, pp. 15859
37. Jump up^ Brent Hugh. "Claude Debussy and the Javanese Gamelan".
Retrieved 27 January 2007.
38. Jump up^ Claude Debussy (1962). Monsieur Croche the Dilettante Hater[full citation needed].
39. Jump up^ Francois Lesure (1988). Debussy on Music The Critical Writings of the Great
French Composer Claude Debussy
40. ^ Jump up to:a b c Roger Nichols (2003). Debussy Remembered [2].
41. Jump up^ "The Myths of Alkan". Jack Gibbons. Retrieved 10 March 2010.
42. Jump up^ Thompson, pp. 18085
43. Jump up^ Mark McFarland, "Transpositional Combination and Aggregate Formation in
Debussy," Music Theory Spectrum 27 no. 2 (Fall 2005): 187220
44. Jump up^ Mark McFarland, "Debussy: The Origins of a Method," Journal of Music Theory 48
no. 2 (Fall 2004): 295324
45. Jump up^ Mark McFarland, "Debussy and Stravinsky: Another Look into their Musical
Relationship," Cahiers Debussy 24 (2000): 79112
46. Jump up^ Barraqu, Jean (1977). Debussy (Solfges). Paris: Editions du Seuil. ISBN 2-02-
47. Jump up^ "Golden Ratio". Retrieved 22 August 2013.
48. Jump up^ [3]
49. Jump up^ Howat, Roy (1983). Debussy in Proportion: A musical analysis. Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 0-521-31145-4.
50. Jump up^ 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. Jump up^ Ross, Alex (2008). The Rest Is Noise. London: Fourth Estate. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-
52. Jump up^ Lon Vallas (1933). Claude Debussy: His Life and Works. Oxford University Press,
H. Milford. p. 225.
53. Jump up^ Weintraub, Stanley. 2001. Whistler: A Biography (New York: Da Capo
Press). ISBN 978-0-306-80971-2. p. 351
54. Jump up^ The 100 Most Influential Musicians of All Time, p. 117 (Britannica Educational
Publishing, Gini Gorlinski, ed., 2009).
55. Jump up^ Brown, Matthew. Debussy Redux: The Impact of His Music on Popular Culture.
Indiana University Press, 2012. pp. 34.
56. Jump up^ "Steve's Debussy Page". 1 November 1913. Retrieved 10 December 2015.

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

Further reading[edit]
Fulcher, Jane (ed.) (2001). Debussy and His World (The Bard Music Festival). Princeton:
Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09042-4.
Lcke, Hendrik (2005): Mallarm, Debussy: Eine vergleichende Studie zur
Kunstanschauung am Beispiel von L'Aprs-midi d'un Faune. Schriftenreihe Studien zur
Musikwissenschaft 4. Hamburg: Dr. Kovac. ISBN 3-8300-1685-9.
Nichols, Roger (1998). The Life of Debussy. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-
Parks, Richard S. (1989). The Music of Claude Debussy. New Haven: Yale University
Press. ISBN 978-0300044393.
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. "Pellas et Mlisande: The 'Nouveau Prophete'? Crisis and
Transformation: French Opera, Politics and the Press" D.Phil. Thesis, Oxford University.
pp. 164208.
Smith, Richard Langham, ed. (1997). Debussy Studies. Cambridge University
Press. ISBN 978-0521460903.
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[edit]
Find more aboutClaude Debussyat Wikipedia's sister projects

Media from Commons

Quotations from Wikiquote

Data from Wikidata

Claude Debussy at DMOZ
"Debussy material". BBC Radio 3 archives.
Claude Debussy at AllMusic
Claude Debussy Catalogue chronologique (in French)
Documentary film about Claude Debussy
Works by Claude Debussy at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about Claude Debussy 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)


Claude Debussy

Rodrigue et Chimne (18901892)

Pellas et Mlisande (18931902)

Le diable dans le beffroi

La chute de la maison Usher (19081917)

Jeux (19121913)

Prlude l'aprs-midi d'un faune (1894)

Nocturnes (18971899)

La mer (19031905)

Images (19051912)

L'enfant prodigue (1884)

Fantaisie for piano and orchestra (18891890)

Premire rhapsodie (19091910)

Piano Trio (1879), L. 3

String Quartet in G minor (1893), Opus 10

Syrinx for flute (1913)

Six sonatas for various instruments (1915-1917)

Deux arabesques (1888, 1891)

Valse romantique (1890)

Suite bergamasque (18901905)

Pour le piano suite (18941901)

Estampes (1903)

Masques (1904)

L'isle joyeuse (1904)

Images, Set 1 (1905)

Reflets dans l'eau

Children's Corner (19061908)

Prludes, Book 1 (19091910)


Des pas sur la neige

Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest

La fille aux cheveux de lin

La srnade interrompue

La cathdrale engloutie

La plus que lente (1910)

Prludes, Book 2 (19121913)


Hommage S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C.

tudes (1915)

Petite suite (18861889)

Six pigraphes antiques (1914)

En blanc et noir (1915)

Beau soir (1880)

Ariettes oublies (18851887)

La Damoiselle lue (1889)

Le Martyre de saint Sbastien (1911)

Impressionism in music

Lists: Compositions by genre Compositions by Lesure numbers


Impressionist music

Biography portal

Classical music portal

WorldCat Identities

VIAF: 6219636

LCCN: n79132137

ISNI: 0000 0001 2119 0614

GND: 118524186

SELIBR: 183573

SUDOC: 026816105

BNF: cb13893072d (data)

BIBSYS: 90079353

ULAN: 500335877

MusicBrainz: be50643c-0377-4968-b48c-47e06b2e2a3b

NLA: 35034487

NDL: 00437533

NKC: jn19990001672

Lonore: LH/681/19


BNE: XX993492
1862 births
1918 deaths

19th-century classical composers
19th-century French musicians
20th-century classical composers
20th-century French musicians
Ballets Russes composers
Burials at Passy Cemetery
Deaths from cancer in France
Chevaliers of the Lgion d'honneur
Composers for piano
Conservatoire de Paris alumni
Deaths from colorectal cancer
French ballet composers
French classical composers
French classical pianists
French male classical composers
French opera composers
French Romantic composers
Impressionist composers
Male opera composers
People from Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Prix de Rome for composition
Pupils of Antoine Franois Marmontel
Pupils of Ernest Guiraud
Ragtime composers
Navigation menu

Not logged in



Create account

Log in
View history

Main page
Featured content
Current events
Random article
Donate to Wikipedia
Wikipedia store
About Wikipedia
Community portal
Recent changes
Contact page
What links here
Related changes
Upload file
Special pages
Permanent link
Page information
Wikidata item
Cite this page
Create a book
Download as PDF
Printable version
In other projects
Wikimedia Commons

Aymar aru





Bahasa Indonesia






Norsk bokml
Norsk nynorsk
Runa Simi

Simple English
/ srpski
Srpskohrvatski /


Ting Vit

Edit links
This page was last edited on 21 June 2017, at 18:53.
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. By using

this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Wikipedia is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia
Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.

Privacy policy

About Wikipedia


Contact Wikipedia


Cookie statement

Mobile view