Achille Claude Debussy, born on 22nd August 1862 was a French composer. He is considered as the first impressionist western classical composer, however he completely denied the term. Debussy was considered to be one of the most influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th century. He was born in a modest family with very little involvement on cultural forms of art and literature. He was an immensely talented musician who got admitted to France’s leading musical college at the age of ten, which goes by the name Conservatoire de Paris. Debussy extensively studied piano, though later he started to like innovative compositions, despite several disapprovals given by the professors in Conservatoire. There were years of practice that went into developing his mature style, and he was almost 40 years old when he achieved fame internationally around 1902 with his only complete opera composition Pelléas et Mélisande.
Debussy composed several orchestral work including Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (1894), Nocturnes (1897–1899) and Images (1905–1912). The music he composed was a reaction against the works of Wagner other German traditional musicians. Debussy completely disregarded the classical symphony and sought out alternative options with his “symphonic sketches” namely La mer composed around 1903 to 1905. The works of Debussy with piano covered books of Preludes and Etudes. His career was widely based on variety of influences on poetry, which included his own works. There was a certain influence of Symbolist poetic movement during the late 19th century, which included few of his works, namely the early La Damoiselle élue and the late Le Martyre de saint Sébastien have subsequent important sections in the chorus part. The final years of Debussy was primarily focused on chamber music, completion of six planned sonatas for various combinations of instruments. Debussy was greatly influenced by far eastern and Russian music, which helped him in creating his own compositions in various styles of orchestral coloring that were unsuccessfully resisted by a lot of musical establishments till date. Artists including Bela Bartok, George Benjamin, Olivier Messiaen and even the jazz pianist and composer Bill Evans, adapted Debussy’s work. He died of cancer at his home, at the age of 55 in Paris after a career in composition that ranged over a period of 30 years.
Debussy was born during 22nd August in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in the north western fringes of Paris. He was the eldest child amongst five other siblings. During 1870, to escape the Siege of Paris, his mother took him and his sister to their paternal uncle’s home, located in Cannes. Here, Debussy started to learn piano under an Italian musician, Jean Cerutti. Debussy was soon getting recognized as a talented musician who composed pieces with Ernest Guiraud, harmonies with Emile Durand and other renowned musicians. Conservatoire was the place where Debussy started making progress. He received an award of deuxième accessit for his performance as a soloist in the first movement of Chopin’s second piano concerto that took place in the Conservatoires annual competition. He was a talented pianist and an extraordinary sight reader though he was not really serious with his studies. He advanced to premier accessit during 1875 and second prize in 1877 although he failed at the competitions happening in 1878 and 1879. Due to these failures he was deemed ineligible to continue as a pianist, but he was a student of harmony, solfège and later composition.
Debussy’s first composition is dated back to two modes of poems by Alfred de Musset named "Ballade à la lune" and "Madrid, princesse des Espagnes". The upcoming year Debussy procured a job as a pianist in the household of Nadezhda von Meck, the patroness of Tchaikovsky.
During 1880 Debussy while continuing his studies at the Conservatoire, he was involved as accompanist for Marie Moreau-Sainti’s singing classes, where he took this role for four years. Inspired by Marie Vasnier, with whom he took the classes Debussy wrote 27 songs and dedicated them to her in their relationship of seven years. She soon became Debussy’s muse as well as mistress whose husband Henri Vasnier who highly encouraged Debussy to continue his career as a composer. Debussy soon achieved a prestigious musical award, Prix de Rome for his composition cantata L'enfant prodigue.
Debussy was not delighted with Italian opera and was much more impressed by the music of composers like Palestrina and Lassus of the 16th century, which he heard at Santa Maria dell'Anima. Due to this he was often depressed and was not able to compose, though he was inspired by Franz Liszt, who used to visit students and play for them.
Debussy returned to Paris around 1887 and went to various opera concerts of Wagner in this time period. He was influenced by his works, but unlike other French composers he said that, there was no future in continuing Wagner’s style and commented Wagner was a beautiful sunset that was mistaken for a dawn. Soon, Debussy broke up with Marie Vasnier after dedicating a song named Mandoline in 1890. Debussy began a relationship with Gabrielle Dupont, who was the daughter of a tailor and began to live together from 1893. Debussy continued composing songs, piano pieces, few of which were publically performed, though his music made a modest impact, he was recognized as a potential candidate who got elected in the committee of Société Nationale de Musique in 1893.
Based on recognition for his musical pieces, Debussy made a step forward in December 1894, when the poem Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, based on Stéphane Mallarmé's poem, that premiered at the concert of the Société Nationale. The next year Debussy completed the first draft of Pelléas, and began to get it staged. However, during this period Debussy abandoned his wife Dupont for Marie-Rosalie Texier, also known as Lilly whom he married in 1899 October, when she threatened him of killing herself if Debussy refused to marry her. She was a practical, affectionate and straightforward woman who was well liked by Debussy’s friends although he was frustrated by her limited knowledge and intellect of musical understanding, because of which their marriage lasted for a period of five years.
Debussy was a highly talented composer and the term impressionist was used to describe his musical pieces. Despite the lack of formal schooling, Debussy read a lot and found his inspirations in literature. Writers like Verlaine, Mallarmé, Maeterlinck and Rimbaud, who reacted against the realism, conservatism, objectivity, which was prevalent during the 1870s. His literary inspirations were mostly French, although he used to read writers like Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. His works were influenced by a lot of writers and different artists were inspired by the compositions of Debussy like Bartok, Leos Janacek, Kata amongst others.
Debussy’s death occurred due to cancer and he suffered for quite some time before he died at the age of 55 in Paris. He was not only an original and authentic composer but also a modern composer who got his inspirations from various French prose and poetry. His works were an exquisite piece of art that revolutionized the French harmonists. Debussy is considered a leader, for the assimilation of songs and speeches and relating the lyrical melody to the harmonics of instruments and poetic fancy. The composers in present day, Debussy had the finest aesthetic appeal in his works who left the world with his beautiful musical pieces that is relevant for composers till date. Debussy through his works made the world a bit more colorful and soulful and made music that connected people everywhere.
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