Claude Debussy: Life and Works

French composer Claude Debussy reached his career peak when late Romantics Liszt and Wagner were coming to an end. He is often called “French musical Impressionist.’

Debussy is best-known for orchestral music ‘La mer,’ two preludes – L’Apres-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun) and La fille aux cheveaux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair), and piano piece ‘Clair de lune.’ He won the Prix de Rome competition twice.

Early Life of Debussy

Claude Debussy, born on August 22, 1862 in St Germain-en-Laye, did not come from a musical family but was encouraged to take up music at an early age. When he was ten years old, he studied with Guiraud at the Paris Conservatoire. Initially, he planned to be a virtuoso pianist but abandoned it when he won the prestigious Prix de Rome competition twice.

In his early years, Debussy travelled extensively to Vienna, Italy and Russia. He also spent few years in Rome but often he was not happy. He was known to be unsociable even as a youth.

Influence of the School of Impressionism

Debussy’s interest in the arts was focused particularly on the painters of the Impressionist school headed by Claude Monet. Critics hailed Debussy as a “French musical impressionist” in comparing his music with the impressionist painters Monet, Renoir and Pisarro, although he preferred the term ‘Symbolism’ to ‘Impressionism.’

Orchestral Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune

At 30, Debussy began one of his best known orchestral works Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, a beautiful and sensual musicbased on a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé, describing the dreams and desires of a faun enjoying in an afternoon heat. The first performance was a great success given an immediate encore.

Family and Financial Life

Debussy had two marriages and many love affairs. On his first wedding, in 1899, he had to give a piano lesson to pay for the reception. His second wife was wealthy, and at 46 years old, he was achieving financial security. Unfortunately, his health began to deteriorate a year later. He died of cancer in 1918, at 56.