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Understanding the Music: Debussy - Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France, in 1862, Claude Debussy was the creator
and leading exponent of French musical impressionism. At age ten, he entered the
Paris Conservatory, where he studied piano with Antoine Francois Marmontel and
composition with Ernest Guiraod. Over the next ten years, along with studies at
the Conservatory, he traveled to Italy, Austria and Russia becoming acquainted
with a wide range of music. In 1894, his cantata, The Prodigal Son, won
the coveted Grand Prix de Rome.
From 1887 on, Debussy confined his activity to composition, rarely appearing in
public as a performer. He enjoyed the company of the leading impressionist poets
and painters who gathered at the home of the poet Stephane Mallarme. Their influence
is felt in Debussy's first important orchestral work, Prelude to the Afternoon
of a Faun (1894). This work established the style of impressionist music and
initiated Debussy's most productive period, which lasted nearly 20 years.
During that time, he composed his one completed opera, Pelleas and Melisande
(1892-1902); the orchestral suites Nocturnes (1893-99), The Sea
(1903), and Images (1906-09); most of his piano music, including the books
of Preludes (1910-13); the ballet, Games (1912); and one of his
best known piano compositions, Claire de Lune, from Suite Bergamasque
About 1910 Debussy developed cancer, which sapped his strength during his last
years. Many projects were started, such as an opera based on Edgar Allan Poe's
The Fall of the House of Usher, but few were completed. He died in Paris