Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918)
It was the French Baroque masters who inspired Claude Debussy to create his last works – three of six planned “sonatas for various instruments”. He was too early to be able to become acquainted with jazz; seriously ill during the world war, he did not live to see the end of it. Among “exotic” influences, Javanese gamelan music had a crucial impact on his harmonies and rhythms. A revolutionary meeting for Debussy at the Great World Exhibition in Paris in 1889, a year in which he also visited the Wagner Temple in Bayreuth for the second time. Another important influence came from Russia. The young Debussy was a music teacher for a few summers at Tchaikovsky’s patron Nadezhda von Meck. But it was Musorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov that really got him going.
During the last year of the century, Claude Debussy composed epoch-making works such as the string quartet in G-minor and the influential prelude to “A Faun’s Afternoon”. The seeds were sown here for an important mainstay of twentieth century modernism, more vigorous than the previous German dominance that culminated with the twelve tone. Influences from Debussy’s symbolic opera “Pelléas and Mélisande” from 1902 came to strongly characterise French composers – not least Maurice Ravel. And many jazz musicians have picked up chords from Debussy’s rich production of piano works over the years.