Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy in 1908

Claude-Achille Debussy[1] (French: ;[2] 22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918) was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music, though he himself 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 atonality. 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.[6]


  • Early life 1
    • Musical development 1.1
  • Personal life 2
  • Death 3
  • Music 4
    • Style 4.1
    • List of works 4.2
    • Early works 4.3
    • Middle works 4.4
    • Late works 4.5
    • Mathematical structuring 4.6
    • Influences 4.7
    • Influence on later composers 4.8
  • Eponyms 5
  • Recordings 6
  • References 7
  • Sources 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10
    • Music scores 10.1

Early life

Debussy was born Achille-Claude Debussy (he later reversed his forenames) on 22 August 1862 in 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

Music scores

External links

  • 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).
  • 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).

Further reading

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


  1. ^ Born Achille-Claude Debussy, he reversed his forenames to Claude-Achille in later life.
  2. ^ Claude Debussy – pronunciation at
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ Claude Debussy – Biography at AllMusic
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists, p. 343
  11. ^
  12. ^ Edward Lockspeiser, Debussy: His Life and Mind, vol. 1, The Macmillan Company, 1962, pp  40–47.
  13. ^ Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man, p. 375
  14. ^ Thompson, p. 70
  15. ^ Thompson, p. 77
  16. ^ Thompson, p. 82
  17. ^ a b c d e f François Lesure and Roy Howat. "Debussy, Claude." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 14 December 2009
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ Nichols, R. (1998) The Life of Debussy. Cambridge University Press, 196 pages.
  21. ^ Orledge, R. 'Debussy the man', in Trezise, S. (ed.) (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Debussy. p.4. Cambridge University Press, UK. ISBN 9780521654784
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b c d Diane Enget Moore (2005). Debussy in Jersey. The Centenary, 1904–2004 [1].
  24. ^
  25. ^ Claude Achille Debussy Archived March 17, 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ a b Simeone, N. (2000). Paris – A musical Gazetteer. Yale University Press, USA.
  27. ^ Eastbourne Local Historian (Eastbourne Local History Society) Nr 157 (Autumn 2010).
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ Garden, M. & Biancolli, L. (1951). Mary Garden's Story. 302 p. Simon & Schuster, New York.
  31. ^ Debussy, Claude Achille The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Columbia University Press. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Rudolph Reti, Tonality, Atonality, Pantonality, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-20478-0.
  34. ^ Thompson, p. 161
  35. ^ Thompson, pp. 158–59
  36. ^
  37. ^ Claude Debussy (1962). Monsieur Croche the Dilettante Hater.
  38. ^ Francois Lesure (1988). Debussy on Music The Critical Writings of the Great French Composer Claude Debussy
  39. ^ a b c Roger Nichols (2003). Debussy Remembered [2].
  40. ^
  41. ^ Thompson, pp. 180–85
  42. ^ Mark McFarland, "Transpositional Combination and Aggregate Formation in Debussy," Music Theory Spectrum 27 no. 2 (Fall 2005): 187–220
  43. ^ Mark McFarland, "Debussy: The Origins of a Method," Journal of Music Theory 48 no. 2 (Fall 2004): 295–324
  44. ^ Mark McFarland, "Debussy and Stravinsky: Another Look into their Musical Relationship," Cahiers Debussy 24 (2000): 79–112
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^ [3]
  48. ^
  49. ^ 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
  50. ^
  51. ^ Weintraub, Stanley. 2001. Whistler: a biography (New York: Da Capo Press). ISBN 978-0-306-80971-2. p. 351
  52. ^


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.[52]


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

A twenty-franc banknote from 1997, depicting Debussy


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 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.

Influence on later composers

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."[51] Although it is not known what it is meant by this statement, one can observe in his music a careful use of orchestral, textural, and harmonic 'shading'.

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.'[50]

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."[17] 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"[17] 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.

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.

Among the Russian composers of his time, the most prominent influences were 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.'"[17]

Debussy's influences were wide-ranging. He acquired a taste for parallel motion in fifths, fourths and octaves from medieval music, and an appreciation for figuration and arabesque from the Baroque masters. He especially had a great love for the French clavier composers 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.

Claude Debussy, by Donald Sheridan


Some people have claimed that Debussy structured parts of his music mathematically.[46][47] 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.[48]

Mathematical structuring

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 1.

Although Pelléas 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, 1908–1917) as well as considering projects for operas based on Shakespeare's As You Like It and Joseph Bedier's La Legende de Tristan.

Arranged by Anne DeBlois, performed by the Advent Chamber Orchestra

Performed by Sarah Bassingthwaite

Performed by the United States Marine Corps Chamber Orchestra. Chamber orchestra arrangement of the Chamber music piece scored for string quintet.

Performed by the United States Marine Corps Chamber Orchestra. Chamber orchestra arrangement of the Chamber music piece scored for string quintet.

Problems playing these files? See .

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.

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.[45]

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 Barraqué pointed out parallels to Anton Webern's serialism in this work.

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.

Caplet and Debussy

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).[44] 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.

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,[42] and the forms are far more irregular and fragmented.[43] 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 Debussy's late music.

Late works

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[37] and Stravinsky, and worshipful of Chopin and Bach, the latter being acknowledged as "the one great master."[38] His relationship to Beethoven was a complex one; he was said to refer to him as "le vieux sourd" (the old deaf one)[39] and adjured one young pupil never to play Beethoven's music for "it is like somebody dancing on my grave."[39] 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."[39] He also admired the works of Charles-Valentin Alkan.[40] Schubert and Mendelssohn fared much worse, the latter being described as a "facile and elegant notary".[41]

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.

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.

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 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 music.[36]

Debussy wrote much for the piano during this period. The set of pieces entitled Pour le piano (1901) uses rich harmonies and textures which would later prove important in jazz music. 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.

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 lines.[35]

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.

Middle works

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 contrast to the large orchestras so favoured by late-romanticism, Debussy wrote this piece for a smaller ensemble, emphasizing instrumental colour and timbre. Despite Mallarmé himself and colleague and friend Paul Dukas 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.

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 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.

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.

Debussy at the piano, in front of the composer Ernest Chausson, 1893

Early works

List of works

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."[34] The opposing side argues that Debussy may have been reacting to unfavorable criticism at the time, and the negativity that critics associated with Impressionism; it could therefore be argued that he would have been pleased with application of the current definition of Impressionism to his music.

He concludes that Debussy's achievement was the synthesis of monophonic based "melodic tonality" with harmonies, albeit different from those of "harmonic tonality".[33]

  1. Glittering passages and webs of figurations which distract from occasional absence of tonality;
  2. Frequent use of parallel chords which are "in essence not harmonies at all, but rather 'chordal melodies', enriched unisons", described by some writers as non-functional harmonies;
  3. Bitonality, or at least bitonal chords;
  4. Use of the whole-tone and pentatonic scale;
  5. Unprepared modulations, "without any harmonic bridge."

Rudolph Reti points out the following features of Debussy's music, which "established a new concept of tonality in European music":

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".[32]



Debussy died of rectal cancer at his Paris home on 25 March 1918,[31] at the age of 55. He had been diagnosed with the cancer in 1909[23] 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 Offensive of World War I. The funeral procession made its way 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.[26]

Debussy's grave at Passy Cemetery in Paris


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." [30]

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.[28] Their daughter (the composer's only child) Claude-Emma was born there on 30 October.[23] Her parents were 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 Debussy (she was the dedicatee of his Children's Corner suite); he remarked towards the end of his life, when gravely ill, that were it not for her, he might have committed suicide. Claude-Emma outlived her father by scarcely a year, succumbing to the diphtheria epidemic of 1919 after her doctor administered the wrong treatment.[29]

In the spring of 1905, finding the hostility towards them intolerable, Debussy and Bardac (now pregnant) fled to England, via Jersey.[25] Bardac's divorce was finalized in May.[26] The couple settled at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne from 24 July to 30 August 1905,[27] where Debussy was to correct proofs to his symphonic suite La mer,[4][23] celebrating his divorce from Texier on 2 August.

Debussy's last home, now 23 Square Avenue Foch, Paris[24]

In 1904 Debussy was introduced to Emma Bardac, wife of Parisian banker Sigismond Bardac, by her son Raoul, who was one of his students.[22] 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.[23]

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.[20] 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 children.[21]

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 Chausson.

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.

Debussy, by Marcel Baschet, 1884

Personal life

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.[19]

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.[18]

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.[17] 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.

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."[16]

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".[14] Neither did he delight in Italian opera, as he found the operas of Donizetti and 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, 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!"[15]

Debussy at the Villa Medici in Rome, 1885, at centre in the white jacket

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).

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.[12] 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.[13]

[11].Allegro de concert, and the Piano Concerto No. 1, a movement from the Ballade No. 2, and Chopin's Weber and Schumann, Beethoven by movements sonata The pieces he played in public at this time included [10]