Debussy, Achille Claude
DEBUSSY, ACHILLE CLAUDE
Impressionist composer; b. Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Aug. 22, 1862; d. Paris, March 25, 1918. Eldest of five children, Claude was baptized two years after his birth, at the suggestion of his godmother aunt, Clémentine de Bussy, who also arranged for his first music lessons. At ten he began his training at the Paris Conservatory, and soon revealed a disposition for composition and the piano. His music was more secular than sacred; yet often its apparent archaism, particularly in its modality, might be a reflection of his visit to Solesmes and his knowledge of early French folk songs. His incidental music for Gabriele d'Annunzio's mystery play, Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien, was proscribed for Catholics by the archbishop of Paris because a woman portrayed the martyr, not because d'Annunzio's text was placed on the Index in the same year (1911). Debussy protested that he had written it as though commanded by a church. Yet the play contains profane as well as sacred elements, and the music, though often elevated and infiltrated with modal color, is uneven. Essentially a poet and a miniaturist of music, Debussy created evanescent atmospheres through his sensitivity to the vocal inflection, scales, and instrumentation of exotic regions. In his search for iridescent and sonorous color he created not only a personal style marked by ingenious evasions of tonality and sensuous sonorities that shocked his contemporaries, but also a harmonic vocabulary that heralded a new era in music.
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