Hey! It’s August! How did that happen?! It seems the weeks are flying by, and the months are creeping up on me. Pretty soon it will be time to jump full swing into our school year. And for this I am actually incredibly excited :D One of the subjects I am looking forward to covering are some of the greatest composers of all time – I grew up on classical music and really hope my kids come to appreciate and love it as much as I have.
This month I’m participating in the iHomeschool Network’s Birthday Party Blog Hop, and I’ll be introducing you to the great Claude Debussy. Who is Claude Debussy you say? Well, I’m glad you asked! :0)
Born: August 22, 1862
Birth Home: Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France
Family: 4 siblings, all younger. Father a shop owner, mother a seamstress.
Musical history: Began piano lessons at the age of 7, entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 10
Teachers: Italian violinist Cerutti; Marie Maute de Fleurville (who claimed to be a student of Chopin); at the Conservatoire, composition taught by Ernest Guiraud, music history/theory with Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray, harmony with Émile Durand, piano with Antoine François Marmontel, organ with César Franck, and solfège with Albert Lavignac
Influences: Richard Wagner (opera), Franz Liszt, César Franck, Jules Massenet (opera, melodist)
Schools: Paris Conservatoire (1872-1883), Villa Medici (French academy in Rome, 1885-1887),
Musical Style: Claude challenged the typical classical style and teaching of music. He favoured dissonance in his music, which was more frowned upon as the notes tend to be more sharp, and are often used to portray pain, grief or conflict. He has been accredited with establishing a “new concept of tonality in European music” and accused of “courting the unusual”, beginning the bridge from late romantic to 20th century modern music. He was a fan of parallel chords, bitonality (using 2 different keys at once), pentatonic scales (5 notes per octave instead of 7), and changing keys in the middle of the music without any bridges between. He was brilliant on the piano, and could read sight music at the drop of a hat. He could have pursued a professional career as a pianist – but he never did.
Early Works: Debussy submitted pieces to other great composers such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (though submitted in 1880, it was not published until 1932 as Tchaikovsky said the piece was “much too short” and lacked “unity”), the Villa Medici academy (4 pieces were accepted and published between 1887 and 1888). Finally, in the 1890’s, Claude developed his own personal musical language and continued on that track with many of the pieces we are familiar with today – Clair de Lune, String Quartet in G minor and Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.
Most Famous Works: The three Nocturnes were written in 1899 (these are probably my favourites of Debussy’s work!), The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, la Mer, and the opera for Pelléas et Mélisande (1893).
Family Life: Debussy’s relationships were a bit like his musical compositions – turbulent, eventful, and atypical to the time. He had 2 relationships before he married a model in 1899. Unfortunately, that relationship lasted only until 1904 when he left with another woman. He was divorced in 1905, the same year his daughter, Claude-Emma was born. Unfortunately, she died at the age of fourteen.
Death: Claude Debussy was diagnosed with cancer in 1909. It ultimately took his life in Paris on March 24, 1918.
Legacy: Though he continually fought against the typical styles of music of the time, Claude Debussy left behind a legacy and style of music which have influenced many other great composers. His emphasis varied use of harmony and treatment of the orchestra opened eyes and brought new inspiration to many. Some of the well-known composers who have been influenced by Debussy’s style are Maurice Ravel, Olivier Messaien, Richard Strauss, Giacomo Puccini, Igor Stravinsy, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Paul Hindemith, Charles Griffes, Karol Szymanowski, and Ottorino Respighi.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit more about Claude Debussy! If you’re interested in finding out still more about him, feel free to dig around and use this great notebooking page to record what you find. I know I’m looking forward to teaching my children more about the great ccomposers! There are some fantastic unit studies available online – if you haven’t considered teaching the composers, I would highly suggest you check these out!
- World’s Greatest Composers (Confessions of a Homeschooler)
- Tchaikovsky composer study
- Learning About the Orchestra (Homegrown Learners)
- Great Composers (Living Books Curriculum)