Achille-Claude Debussy - A great French composer | Sunday Observer

Achille-Claude Debussy - A great French composer


Achille-Claude Debussy ranks as one of the greatest French composers ever. His music was different from the usual music of his time, a period which spanned from the late Romantic period to the early modern period.

Debussy was influenced very much by a group of French artists of his time known as the ‘Impressionists’. (These artists did not paint a realistic picture of their subject but an impression of what the subject looked like to them.

Thus, they were known as the ‘impressionists’. Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas were very famous impressionist artists.) According to music critics Debussy’s music too had an ‘impressionistic’ quality and he became known as an ‘impressionist’ composer but he disliked this term.

Debussy was born in Saint – Germain – en – Laye, France on August 22, 1862. His father Manuel Achille Debussy was a travelling salesman according to some historians while others say that he owned a china and crockery shop. Mother Victorine Manoury Debussy was a seamstress and Claude Debussy was the eldest of their five children.

He did not have an easy childhood. He began piano lessons at the age of seven and his teacher was an Italian violinist named Cerrito. It was very obvious that Debussy was very talented and at ten years of age he started studying music at the Paris Conservatoire. He studied subjects such as composition and music history and learnt the piano, organ and the solfege.

In the early days, it looked as if Claude Debussy would become a concert pianist performing at the great concert halls but he did not get enough marks at his examination to do so.

Debussy had his own, experimental approach to composing music and his teachers found this a problem as Debussy did not follow the strict rules of the Paris Conservatoire.

In 1884 Debussy won the coveted Prix de Rome for his composition L’enfant Prodigue (The Prodigal Son)and received a scholarship to the Academie des Beaux Arts . He returned to Paris in 1887. Here at the World Exhibition Debussy was introduced to the Indonesian Gamelan music. This music is performed with bells, gongs, xylophones and sometimes there is singing too. In the following years Debussy used Gamelan music in some his compositions .

Ariettes Oubliees, (Forgotten Arias -1888), Preludes L’apres midi d’une faune (Prelude to the afternoon of a faune 1892) and the String Quartet (1893) are among Debussy’s early masterpieces.

Debussy’s compositions are varied. Among his compositions are a set of etudes, a piano duet and three sonatas. One Sonata is for the cello and piano while another is for the viola and harp. The Sonata for violin and piano (1917) is the last of his works which Debussy played in public. The Suite Bergamasque includes the very popular Clair de Lune (Moonlight). The Children’s Corner Suite, a six movement suite for solo piano incorporates another very popular composition of Debussy’s, The Golliwog’s Cakewalk.

Pelleas et Melisande, Debussy’s opera became a sensation when it was first performed in 1902. This earned Debussy much fame and placed him as a leading composer. Debussy also wrote many songs and their music was perfect for the rhythm of the French language.

His two Arabesques showcase his impressionism and he composed these while still in his twenties.

(The baroque Arabesque form is a popular French dance form.) US R and B singer-songwriter's 'Song Like the sea' is influenced by Debussy’s first Arabesque.

Debussy and wife Emma Bardac had one daughter , Claude-Emma who was also very musical. Unfortunately, she died the year after Debussy (1919) when a doctor accidentally gave her the wrong medicine for diphtheria.

Debussy died from colorectal cancer on March 25,1918 and was buried in the Passy Cemetery, Paris, France.