1862 — 1918
Debussy’s struggles with orthodoxy were evident from the beginning. Born the son of a shopkeeper and a seamstress, he did not begin serious musical training until he was seven. But within three years, his piano playing had reached such an advanced level that he was awarded a place at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1884, at the age of 22, he won the Conservatoire’s prestigious Prix de Rome, entitling him to study in the Italian capital. Debussy’s first visit to Bayreuth in 1888 brought him into contact with Wagner’s epic operas. The impact of the German composer’s many passages of quiet introspection are evident in the radiant textures of Debussy’s La demoiselle élue, for women’s voices (solo and choral) and orchestra, completed that same year. Debussy also discovered a kindred creative spirit in the renegade composer Erik Satie. A new world of expressive possibilities also opened up before him following his immersion in the music of the Far East at the Paris Exhibition of 1889. The delicate enchantments of the Arabesques for piano and Petite Suite were exchanged for a dissolving of the traditional rules of musical composition. This is initially hinted at in ‘Clair de lune’ from his 1890 Suite bergamasque and, with greater sophistication, in the slow movement of his 1893 String Quartet. However, Debussy set the bar at an entirely new level with one of his first indisputable masterpieces, the orchestral Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. So overwhelming were the musical implications of the Prélude, in which tonal colour had become a vital part of the music’s conception, that over the following decade, Debussy completed only a handful of major works. These included the three orchestral Nocturnes of 1899; his Wagner-influenced opera Pelléas et Mélisande; the three Chansons de Bilitis; and two suites for piano, Pour le piano and the Estampes. The importance of these works is now beyond question. Escaping Paris after a bout of scandal, Debussy and his mistress Emma Bardac went to Eastbourne on the south coast of England, where he composed La mer. He refined this genius for the pictorial over the following decade, sharing certain characteristics with the Impressionist painters, especially Monet. Staring death in the face, he amazed everyone with a series of three (out of a planned six) chamber sonatas: one for flute, viola and harp, one for cello and one for violin. Debussy appeared to be on the verge of another creative breakthrough with a form of neo-Classicism that would help nourish the next generation of French composers when he died peacefully in his sleep during the evening of 25 March 1918.
Daniel Barenboim & the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra – with Lang Lang
Salzburg Festival, 2022
Musical Moment: Bomsori and Rafał Blechacz in Mozart, Beethoven & more
Secret Love Letters
Lisa Batiashvili, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Giorgi Gigashvili, The Philadelphia Orchestra
The Peace Concert Versailles (Live at Versailles / 2018)
Elsa Dreisig, Ekaterina Gubanova, Daniel Behle, Ryan Speedo Green, Yuja Wang, Choeur de Radio France, Wiener Philharmoniker, Franz Welser-Möst
Bartók: Concerto For Orchestra, BB 123, Sz.116 / Dvorák: Symphony No.8 in G Major, Op.88, B.163 / Debussy: Nocturnes, L. 91 / Haydn: Symphony No.44 in E Minor, Hob.I:44 -"Mourning"
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Collegium Vocale Gent, Yannick Nézet-Séguin