22 August 1862 - 25 March 1918 (age 55)

Debussy was one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He lived in Paris at the time of the Impressionist painters, mixed with them and was influenced by their approach. He was very innovative and experimental and made new rules of composition and harmony.






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Portrait of Debussy


Born: 22 August 1862, St.Germain-en-Laye
Father: Manuel-Achille, owned a china shop
Mother: Victorine Manoury, a seamstress
Siblings: 4 younger siblings: Adèle-Clémentine, Emmanuel, Alfred, Eugène-Octave
Partners: Gabrielle Dupont (cohabited for 9 years)
1st wife Rosalie )Lilly) Texier 
2nd wife Emma Bardac
Children: daughter Claude-Emma (Chou-Chou) by Bardac. She died of diphtheria at 13, a year after her father.
Raoul, and Hélène, by from Emma's first marriage.
Death: 25 March 1918, Paris, colorectal cancer
Grave: Cimetiere de Passy, Paris, France (with his daughter)


Quantity: considerable
Style: Impressionism
Best known works:
- Clair de Lune
- Prelude à L'après-midi d'un faune 
- La Mer 
-38 piano works
-35 songs
-chamber music including works for piano, cello, violin, flute, viola, harp, clarinet, bassoon, tumpet
opera: started 5 but completed only 1 - Pelleas et Melisande
-4 ballets
-14 orchestral works
-34 'dramatic' works 

A short bio/timeline

- Age 7: Went to Cannes with Aunt Clementine and had first piano lessons.
- Age 10: Admitted to the Paris Conservatory.
- Age 18: Met Tchaikovsky's patron. Went with her to Switzerland, and Italy. Began an 8 year affair with Blanche Vasnier, a lawyer's wife.
- Age 22; Won 1st prize 1884 Prix de Rome with L'Enfant Prodigue. Heard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.
- Age 23: Went to study at the  Villa Medici, Rome. Met Liszt and Verdi.
- Age 24: Returned to parents' home in Paris.  Met Brahms. Visited London. Began an affair with Gaby Dupont, a tailor's daughter.
- Age 27:  At the Paris Universal Exhibition he discovers Javanese gamelan music.
- Age 29: Met Erik Satie, a cafe pianist in Montmartre. They became good friends.
- Age 30: Read Maeterlinck's play Pelléas et Mélisande and started to   set it to music as an opera. Also began 'L'Apres-midi d'une faune'.
- Age 35: Orchestrated Satie's Deux Gymnopedies.
- Age 36: Broke up with Gaby Dupont who attempts suicide.
- Age 37: Marries Lilly Texier, a fashion model.
- Age 39: Becomes music critic of Le Revue Blanche.
- Age 40: Pelleas premiere at Opera Comique caused a scandal. Wrote    a libretto for Edgar Allan Poe's Devil in the Belfry.
- Age 41: Music critic for magazine Gil Blas.
   Appointed Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur
   Meets Emma Bardac,a banker's wife and ex-lover of Faure, and      starts a new affair.
- Age 42: Leaves Lilly Texier, who also attempts suicide. Sets up house with Emma Bardac.
- Age 43: Emma divorces her husband.
   Claude and Emma spend August in Eastbourne, England.
   First performance of La Mer.
   Birth of Claude-Emma known as Chouchou.
- Age 46: Debussy marries Emma Bardac.
- Age 47: First symptoms of his rectal cancer which will kill him 9 years later.
- Age 50: Diaghilev and Nijinsky stage the ballet L'Apres-midi d'ine faune.
- Age 51: Travels to Moscow and St.Petersburg
- Age 52: Travels to Roma and The Hague, Holland.
- Age 54: Lilly sues for 6 years unpaid alimony, and wins.
- Age 55: Dies 25 March 1918 in Paris while it is being bombarded by the Germans.

- July 1919: His daughter Chouchou, age 13, dies of diphtheria.

You can find a more detailed timeline here

Clair de Lune, with rolling score

Debussy Quotes

- “Music is the arithmetic of sounds as optics is the geometry of light.”

- “In opera, there is always too much singing.”

- “The century of aeroplanes deserves its own music. As there are no precedents, I must create anew.”

- “Music is the expression of the movement of the waters, the play of curves described by changing breezes.”

- “Extreme complication is contrary to art.”

- "Art is the most beautiful of all lies."

- "I love music passionately. And because I love it I try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it."

Debussy in Art
A fascinating collection of images - art, portraits, caricatures, cartoons, album frames and postage stamps.

L'Apres-midi d'un Faune - Rudolph Nureyev

La Mer 
Valery Gergiev, London Symphony Orchestra

His best known work 'La Mer' was composed in 1905 at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, on England's south coast. 
Here is a view of the hotel and one of him taking a photo (with his Kodak Brownie?)

Preludes Book 1 - The Girl with the Flaxen Hair

Arabesque no.2 
piano roll recorded by Debussy himself

Sonata for Harp, Flute and Viola

Amazon StoreBooks and CDs on Amazon.com (US)

Claude Debussy Museum

38 rue au Pain,
Free admission.
Tues to Sat from 14.00 to 17:30 
Closed on Mondays, Sundays and holidays.

Google doodle for his birthday

For his 151st birthday Google published this musical animated doodle set to his Claire de Lune. Click on the image below to enjoy it.

Debussy Google doodle

Links, sources and where to go for more information

Here I have merely presented a taster of his life and works. If you would like to know more then I suggest the following websites:

The Centre de Documentation Claude Debussy

- Answers.com entries from reference sites including Wikipedia and more

- Claude Debussy's Pianistic Vision website of the documentary film with interesting clips

- Bewitching in Music, a Bastard in Love a biographical essay (PDF)

- French composers here at 52composers.com

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