Debussy started his musical education at the Paris Conservatoire where he followed the composition classes of Ernest Guiraud, and for a while the organ class of César Franck. The student already showed a complicated and elusive personality. In 1884 Debussy won the first prize at the Prix de Rome but his stay at the Villa Médicis would be the rapture point with academism. Barely dealing with his exile, the musician quit Italy after two years and came back to Paris where he led a Bohemian life.
Debussy, as an admirer of Mallarmé and a regular guest of his salons, was fascinated by symbolism. He found inspiration in this movement for his music, like his Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun that was created from a poem of Mallarmé. The composer's great musical boldness wasn't immediately or easily appreciated, like his opera Pelléas et Mélisande that was first critized before before acclaimed and played worldwide.
This artist of eclectic inspirations is seduced by many styles, including the music of the Far East: pentatonic scale, whole tone scale, and therefore created a unique and unclassifiable musical universe.
Many great composers of the 20th century, like Pierre Boulez and Henri Dutilleux, claimed Debussy's music heritage.
Five landmark dates in the life of Claude Debussy
1870: Debussy took his first music lessons, safe in the South, at his aunt's, during the war
1884: won the first Prix de Rome with his cantata L’Enfant prodigue
1884-1892: Debussy led a Bohemian life in Paris with his lover "Green-eyed-Gaby"
End of 1890: met Mallarmé and Satie
1899: married Lucie Texier
1903: start of his scandalous relationship with Emma Bardac, he will spend the rest of his life with her
Five key pieces by Claude Debussy
1893: String Quartet in G Minor
1894: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
1902: Pelléas et Mélisande on a booklet by Maurice Maeterlinck
1905: La mer