Claude Debussy was a French composer born in St. Germain-en-Laye, France on August 22, 1862. Throughout his career he had an outstanding influence on the development of modern music. He created a style, known as musical impressionism, in which tones, harmonies and melodies suggest a certain mood or atmosphere. His compositions are known for the subtle orchestration, delicate imagery and rich, poetic quality. In composing, Debussy experimented with different tonal effects and in this way he was the forerunner of the dissonance found in the music of the 20th century. Several of his compositions are popular in the concert repertoire, such as Clair de Lune and Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.
Debussy became a student of the piano at age 10 and was admitted to the Paris Conservatory the following year. He stayed at the Conservatory for a total of 11 years, during which time he studied piano, composition and musical theory. His cantata, L’Enfant Prodique (The Prodigal Son), won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1884. After studying for two years in Rome, he returned to France and settled in Paris.
He became very interested in the Impressionist paintings of Claude Monet and the work of Symbolist poets, such as Stephane Mallarme. The Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun was based on one of Mallarme’s poems. By 1894, Debussy had become known as a musical impressionist, but he disliked this term and preferred to call himself a French musician.
Some of the other important compositions of Debussy include Nocturnes and Iberia. The Children’s Corner, a piano suite, contains the Golliwog’s Cakewalk. He did not write any symphonies or concertos, but within the small category that he did write for, he created music of great beauty. He dies in Paris on March 25, 1918.