100 Years of Claude Debussy

It is perhaps one of the most recognised pieces of classical music along with the likes of Edvard Grieg’s Peer Cynt Suite No.1 ‘Morning Mood’ and Frederic Chopin’s Nocturnes, but do we really know Clair de Lune, or the man behind its creation? Used in several soundtracks, Clair de Lune is instantly calming yet extremely complex and arouses moments of pensive sadness as well as pure joy which is rare to find in a short piece of music. Despite how recognisable it is, it continues to have a mysterious streak to it.

The creator of this exceptional piece was Claude Debussy, an exceptional musical talent born in France in 1862. By the age of 10 Debussy had entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he would study for 11 years. Despite his obvious talents, his teachers and peers often found his interpretations of music to be strange. This however would distinguish his compositions and allow them to take the lead in the burst of impressionist music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1884 at the age of 22, Debussy won the Prix in Rome for his composition L’Efant Prodigue, which gained him a place in the Villa Medici, the french academy in Rome for three years. The academy was not to his tastes however, as he found the whole experience restrictive, and so he moved back to Paris. He was surrounded by opera and the works of Wagner, but ultimately did not enjoy the ostentatiousness of this style, which is evident in his style. Over the next few years, Debussy’s compositions made their mark and soared in popularity. His non traditional and sensory tones were completely different to the baroque style, but well received. Despite his critique of opera he created his own ‘ Pelleas et Melisande’ which he completed in 1895, and was received with divided opinion, either loved or hated. He would continue to compose exceptional pieces such as Prelude a l’apres- midi d’un faune, the music for Nijinsky’s ballet ‘Afternoon of a Faun, and ‘String Quartet’ .

Debussy died aged 55 in March 1918. His unique compositions have continued to inspire and resonate with people today. He is one of the few composers who has allowed non- classical music lovers to be completely transported and won over by a few minutes of musical bliss.

To celebrate 100 years since his death, the Royal Academy of Music are holding ‘Debussy Day’ on the 25th March to celebrate the life and works of this great composer.


Holly Lloyd – Arts & Events Editor

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