Debussy, Achille Claude

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Debussy, Achille Claude


Born Aug. 22, 1862, in St.-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris; died Mar. 25, 1918, in Paris. French composer.

Debussy received his musical education at the Paris Conservatory (1872-84), where he studied piano under A. F. Marmontel and composition under E. Guiraud. In 1881 and 1882 he visited Russia. Upon his graduation from the conservatory, Debussy received the Prix de Rome for the cantata L’Enfant prodigue. In 1885-86 he lived in Rome as a grantaided student. When he returned to Paris in 1887, he joined a circle of poets and artists who were representatives of the symbolist and impressionist movements. This group was lead by S. Mallarmé. Debussy appeared as a pianist and conductor, performing his own works, and beginning in 1901 he was a music critic. In his later years he gave many concerts. (In 1913 he gave concerts in St. Petersburg and Moscow.)

Debussy is the founder of impressionist music. Refined and frequently nebulous images, so characteristic of impressionism, appear throughout his music; Debussy’s music also evokes moods of meditation in the listener. At the same time, his compositions are noted for their lyric quality and delicate style. Debussy attempted to recreate in his music fleeting impressions and the subtlest nuances found in human emotions and natural phenomena. He updated techniques of musical expression and enriched the musical language of both orchestra and piano. He created impressionistic melodies, which is noted for its flexibility of nuances and, at the same time, vagueness and blurring of contours. Harmony in Debussy’s works creates a “shimmering” effect, achieved through the use of ancient diatonic and pentatonic scales and elements of polytonality and atonality. The tendencies manifested in Debussy’s work have been accepted and developed further by composers in many countries. Although he wrote music of various genres, he is most famous for his instrumental program music.

Among Debussy’s works are the opera Pelléas and Mélisande,, based on the play by M. Maeterlinck and composed in 1902 in Paris; the ballets Jeux and Khamma, both composed in 1912, and La Boîte á joujoux, composed in 1913; the score to G. d’Annunzio’s mystery play Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, composed in 1911; and a work for orchestra and voice entitled The Blessed Damozel (words by D. G. Rossetti), composed in 1888. His works for symphony orchestra include Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (based on an eclogue by S. Mallarmé), composed in 1892-94; the triptych Nocturnes, consisting of Nuages, Fetes, and Sirenes, composed in 1897-99; the three sketches of La Mer (1903-05); and the suite Iberia (1908). Debussy also wrote many compositions for the piano, including Estampes (1903), L’Isle joyeuse (1904), 24 preludes in two volumes (1910-13), and 12 etudes in two volumes (1915); music for instrumental ensembles; and more than 50 songs.


Monsieur Croche, antidilettante, 8th ed. Paris, 1926.
In Russian translation:
Stat’i, retsenzii, besedy. Moscow-Leningrad, 1964.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.