Debussy wrote songs for voice and piano, orchestral and
piano works, chamber works, and a single opera. Debussy's
music came at the time during which the last romantic
era music was being written. He was not
really a romantic composer; some writers have even gone so
far as to rate Debussy as a 'classical' composer, but
perhaps he is best classified as not only a composer aligned
with the magic of the French impressionist movement in the
visual arts, but
also with the entire movement that occurred in French music
during the last few decades of the century, a movement
that produced some very important works. He not completely
a romantic composer. For example, his music touches on
romantism during the final bars of his orchestra work La
In his teen and twenty years, Debussy wrote a number of
short piano pieces that have become his most popular
compositions. These include the Arabesques of 1888-81, the Rêverie
of 1890, and the Suite Bergamasque of 1890
(including his most famous composition, Claire de
lune). The song Beau Soir that
Debussy wrote when he was only 18 is perhaps his most famous
song! Debussy's early music, composed in a more traditional musical language,
is extraordinarily beautiful and evokes a particular magic
that only Debussy seemed to have.
Also during his teen years, Debussy was exposed to the
music of Richard Wagner
1888 and 1889, following the tradition of many French
musicians, made pilgrimages to Wagner's theater in Bayreuth
to hear Wagner's music. (see
this article also) As were most of the composers
in France at that time, Debussy was significantly inspired
by the revolutionary music of Wagner. But another French
composer's music made a very strong impression. His name was
Satie was was at that time an unknown composer with
virtually no academic training, and a friend of Debussy.
Satie's Sarabandes of 1887 contained music of a shocking originality.
This music had unresolved major and minor seventh and
dominant ninth chords, one following another in succession.
Here for the first time is
the harmonic language that will become associated with Debussy, Ravel, and later, American jazz after
the innovations of Charlie Parker and Art Tatum. Satie's Prelude de la porte héroïque du
ciel of 1894 was a revelation to Debussy. In this
moved from one triad to another outside the requirements
of traditional harmonic chordal resolution. These
features, along with the music and orchestration of
Wagner, were the inspiration for Debussy's own musical language. The first
hint of this new harmonic language appeared around 1890, most
notably in the song Recueillement from the Cinq poème
de Baudelaire, a set of songs strongly influenced by
both composer Wagner and Satie. Debussy's string
Quartet of 1893 began where Cesar Franck's quartet of 1889 ended.
masterworks of Debussy's second period are his opera Pelléas
et Mélisande. composed between 1983 and 1902, and Prélude
à l'après-midi d'un faune, written between 1892 and 1894.
are perhaps his greatest works.
et Mélisande, Corinne Heline writes "The music is so
tenuous, so mystically beautiful, that a listener is often
caught up in the ecstasy of some strange exhilaration and
at other times is brought to the very verge of
tears." In this score Debussy was able to capture the
essence of the invisible world of nature. I attended a
performance of the San Francisco opera, and I remember the stage
being bathed in green light, the color of nature. It was
perfect. I will never forget this magic experience of
his book Debussy and
Wagner, Robin Holloway demonstrates
exactly how the music of Pelleas was inspired by the score
of Wagner's Parsifal, which is perhaps the greatest work
of spiritual music ever composed.
During the third period
Debussy embarked on a new journey, creating a music with new harmonic and melodic
language, employing new scales and harmonies. Abandoning
many of the tenets of traditional harmony, he began using
the ninth and thirteenth chords that he had discovered in
Satie's Saranades, and abandoned tradition
resolutions and rules such as the avoidance of parallel fifths. This transformation begins with around 1903 with
such works as La Mer (begun in that year) and Estampes.
The preludes Book Two, completed in 1912, are a monument
to a completely different harmonic language than that
found in Book One, completed in 1910.
was burdened with having to work on projects he detested
in order to make money. About Le martyre de St. Sébastien, he wrote to his wife: "This
proposal means nothing to me of any value." However
she and several friends persuaded him to undertake the
project, which he would have never considered except
for financial reasons. He turned to his friend and
collaborator Andre Caplet to orchestrate the work and, we
believe, to help him write it. Thus, we have a work of
Debussy that is of inferior quality. Another work that he
hated was the Rapsodie for saxophone. Jeux, of 1913, was also
written for financial reasons.
orchestration of La Boite a Joujoux of 1913 is obviously
based Stravinky's Petroushka, which was a big hit in Paris
in 1911 and which Debussy had fallen in love with.
the end, Debussy complained that creativity had abandoned him.
He died of cancer in 1918.
©2005 by Rising World Entertainment
Debussy Web Site
Biography and List of
Life of Debussy
Compositions on CD
Quatiful string quartet is the second great quartet written by a
This beauch composer (Cesar Franck wrote the first). If you
are looking for a CD, find one paired with either Ravel's or
Bergamasque for Piano
This beautiful suite contains the lovely Claire du Lune (Moonlight).