Claude Debussy

(1862 - 1918)

and Maurice Ravel were the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music, though Debussy disliked the term when applied to his compositions. He 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.

Debussy was experimental from the outset, favouring dissonances and intervals that were not taught at the Academy. Like Georges Bizet, he was a brilliant pianist and an outstanding sight reader, who could have had a professional career had he so wished.

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. He 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, he chose to write in smaller, more accessible forms.

Debussy’s music is noted for its sensory content and frequent usage of nontraditional tonalities. 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.

Claude Debussy

Recordings of select works