Violin History & Timeline
The Roots of Famous Violinists
Debussy strayed from the norms of musical style and harmony, and
discovered a realm of tonality and chords that revolutionized music.
Born near Paris on March 25
, 1918, Debussy was the son of poverty
stricken parents who could not afford to
provide for their five children. Four children were sent to live with a
relatively wealthy aunt, and Debussy was the only child who was raised
by his parents. They proved to be extremely devoted to Debussy, and
encouraged his interest in music. Debussy’s initial study of music was
funded by his aunt. She found the boy his first teacher, Cerutti, and
then hired Madame Fleurville, a woman who had studied under Chopin, to
further develop Debussy’s skills. Under Fleurville’s direction
Debussy made great strides, and was accepted by the Paris
Conservatory at the age of eleven.
The conservatory was the site of Debussy’s
education for the next eleven years. There, he incited the disapproval
of the academicians who taught him. Steeped in tradition, and startled
by any deviation from the accepted forms of harmony, Debussy’s
instructors were often angered by his daring and unusual approach to
On leaving the conservatory, Debussy embroiled
himself in multiple love affairs. His first infatuation was with Madame
Vasnier, an older, married singer who Debussy would occasionally
accompany. Madame Vasnier and her husband appreciated Debussy’s
talents, and for five years the composer did a great deal of his
studying and composing at their home. Debussy dedicated many of his
pieces to Madame Vasnier, and lavished great affection upon her. In 1884
he won the Prix de Rome, an honor that required Debussy to live
and compose in Rome for the next three years. He was absolutely
miserable there, and fled back to Paris with the desire to remain with
the Vasniers. Fortunately, the Vasniers convinced him of the importance
of completing the requirements of the Prix de Rome, and Debussy returned
On returning to Paris after three years, Gabrielle
Dupont became the next source of Debussy’s musical inspiration. They
lived together for ten years, and Gabrielle took care of the household
while Debussy composed. During this time, Debussy constantly frequented
cafes where he would meet and converse with the Impressionist painters,
Manet and Renoir. In discussing the change that was taking place in art,
Debussy perceived the need for music to incorporate new ideas. He wanted
his pieces to reflect precision and objectivity, rather than the
pomp and excess that he believed the German Romantic schools encouraged.
Debussy began writing Peileas et Melisande, an opera that took
him ten years to complete, and that reflects the originality of his
style. The success of this opera established Debussy as one of the most
noteworthy composers in France.
Rosalie Texier, a beautiful brunette, soon caught
Debussy’s attention, and Gabrielle Dupont was quickly abandoned.
Debussy married Rosalie, and later discovered that he had no interests
in common with her. Thus, after three years of marriage, Debussy sought
affection from a new woman, Emma Bardac, the wife of a banker. Although
Rosalie attempted suicide, Debussy could not be persuaded to continue
living with her. Debussy and Emma divorced their spouses and immediately
married one another.
Together, Debussy and Emma had a daughter, and the
birth of this child put an end to the composer’s constant quest for
new love affairs. He remained a devoted husband to Emma for the rest of
his life. Debussy suffered a great deal as he grew older. He had an
advanced form of cancer, and often lacked the funds for food and fuel.
Nevertheless, he continued composing. A visionary, Debussy perceived and
established a style of musical expression that transcended the accepted
traditions. His music challenged and enchanted, drawing the listener
into a mystical web of impressions.
Notes by Shanaira Udwadia (June-2001)