home Recent Events special Events blog


Celebrating Claude Debussy’s 150th Anniversary in 2012

11th Jan 2012

Some people refer to Claude Debussy as a musical Impressionist, comparing his music with the paintings of Monet and Renoir. Others speak of him as a musical Symbolist, using sounds to stir feelings and sensations in the listener's mind in much the same way as Symbolists poets, such as Baudelaire and Verlaine. Regardless of how one interprets Debussy's music, it undeniably has a subtle yet magical power over the imagination.
Achille Claude Debussy was born on 22nd August, 1862, in St-Germain-en-Laye, France. He was the eldest of five children. His father, Manuel-Achille Debussy, ran a china shop and had a hard time making ends meet and his mother, Victorine was a seamstress.  Debussy started playing the piano at the age of 7 and his lessons were paid for by his paternal aunt. It was clear by the age of 10 that Debussy possessed extraordinary talent and he entered the Paris conservatoire where he studied for the next 11 years.
He was a brilliant pianist and fantastic sight reader but disliked the restrictions of the rigid teaching of the Academy and favoured artistic experimentation and freedom. His “big break” came in 1884 when he won the “Prix de Rome” with his composition “L’enfant prodigue”. His prize was a scholarship to the Academie des Beaux-Arts, which included a 4 year residence at the Villa Medici in Rome. Debussy had a wide range of influences from Russian composers (Tchaikovsky, Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Mussorgsky) to Wagner. Not only was Debussy influenced by other composers, he was also profoundly influenced by the contemporary painter, James McNeill Whistler.
Debussy had a chequered love life full of affairs and broken hearts. In 1904, he met his long term partner, Emma Bardac, with whom he had an only daughter, Claude-Emma. She sadly outlived her father by only one year, succumbing to the diptheria epidemic of 1919.
Debussy's greatest contributions to orchestral work includes three "Nocturnes," "La Mer," and "The Three Images". Debussy is most well-known for his compositions for piano, and his greatest contributions came in the late 1890's: The "Suite Bergamasque," written in 1890 contains the most beloved piece of Debussy's music, "Clair de Lune." He also contributed to opera with the composition of “Pelleas and Mellisande”.
Some famous Debussy quotes:
“In opera, there is always too much singing”.

“There is nothing is more musical than a sunset. He who feels what he sees will find no more beautiful example of development in any book which, alas, musicians read but too little - the book of Nature”.

Debussy is considered to be the bridge between romantic and modern music and continues to influence emerging styles of music, including jazz and even pop music.