Biography

The Bohemian Periode

1888

8 January
Debussy becomes a member of the Société nationale de Musique.
The Debussy family moves to 27, Rue de Berlin.

January
Debussy composes Le Balcon, the first song in the Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire and offers the manuscript to his friend, Paul Poujaud.
First edition of Ariettes oubliées published in six separate parts, by the widow of Étienne Girod, in boulevard Montmartre.

August
First trip to Bayreuth, thanks to Étienne Dupin, financier and music lover. Here Debussy hears Parsifal and Die Meistersinger..

End of year
Debussy completes his third composition from Rome, La Damoiselle élue, on a poem by D. G. Rossetti, for women's voices, solo, choir and orchestra.

1889

2 February
First performance of two of the six Ariettes oubliées sung at the Société nationale de musique by Maurice Bagès and accompanied by the composer.

1 March
First performance of the Petite Suite for piano duet, played by Debussy and Jacques Durand.

Strikes up friendship with Robert Godet, whom he met thanks to Jules de Brayer and Maurice Bouchor.
Debussy is a frequent visitor to Paris cafés. At chez Pousset, he meets Villiers de l'Isle Adam and Catulle Mendès, at chez Thommen he enjoys the company of Maurice Rollinat and Gabriel Vicaire, and at café Vachette he converses with Jean Moréas.

April-May
Debussy stays with Michel and René Peter in Brittany, at Saint-Égonat close to Saint-Lunaire.

Performance of the play Le Roi de Duong by the Annamite Theatre group at the Universal Exhibition in Paris [© BnF]

June-July
Universal exhibition: Debussy discovers the Javanese gamelan, and the Annamite theatre, staged by a company from Saigon. Also present were Raymond Bonheur, Paul Dukas and Robert Godet.

22 and 29 June
Debussy hears Rimsky-Korsakov conducting his works at the Trocadéro.

August
Second trip to Bayreuth to hear Tristan und Isolde, in the company of Ernest Chausson, Paul Dukas, Etienne Dupin and Robert Godet.
Debussy begins the Fantaisie which was to be his fourth composition from Rome, but which he did not submit to the Institut.

December
Debussy takes Claude-Achille as his first name.

1890

February
Publication on a subscription basis, organized by Gaston Choisnel, of Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire. The work is sold at the Librairie de l'Art Indépendant, 11 Rue de la Chaussée d'Antin, owned by Edmond Bailly. Private performance at Ernest Chausson's attended by Paul Vidal, Catulle Mendès, Henri Gauthiers-Villars.

21 April
The first performance of Debussy's Fantaisie pour piano et orchestre was to be given by René Chansarel in the solo part at the Société nationale de musique, but Debussy withdraws the piece, because the conductor, Vincent d'Indy, wants to play the first movement only. The score was is sold to Choudens, who does not publish it. Publication, by Fromont, would not take place until 1920

Spring
Debussy begins the composition of Rodrigue et Chimène on a libretto by Catulle Mendès.
He meets Gabrielle Dupont, known as Gaby, daughter of a tailor at Lisieux.

Debussy composes several piano works: Rêverie, Tarentelle styrienne, Ballade slave, Valse romantique and begins Deux Arabesques and Suite bergamasque. A Scottish general commissions Marche écossaise.

Portrait of Stéphane Mallarmé [© BnF]

Autumn
At the request of his friend Ferdinand Hérold, Debussy goes to Mallarmé's Tuesdays, regularly attending until 1895. He also goes to the Chat noir cabaret, making friends with Erik Satie, who worked there as piano accompanist from 1888.

October
Debussy moves in to 76 boulevard Malesherbes for a few months, with his friend Étienne Dupin.

November
Publication of Mandoline by Durand.

1891

January to May
Debussy returns to 27, Rue de Berlin.

He begins the composition of Fêtes galantes (1st series), three songs on poems by Verlaine. He sells a number of works to the publisher Choudens.

Portrait of Camille Claudel [© BnF]

Debussy makes the acquaintance of Camille Claudel, who offers him the sculpture La Valse, which he keeps in his study until his death.

June
Debussy leaves the family home and sets up at 42, Rue de Londres.
He requests permission from Maurice Maeterlinck to set La Princesse Maleine to music..

December
Debussy completes Trois Mélodies on poems by Paul Verlaine, which he sells to the publisher Hamelle.

1892

He composes De rêve and De grève, later included in Proses lyriques, and begins work on his string quartet and on Quatuor à cordes and Prélude, Interlude et Paraphrase finale sur l'après-midi d'un faune after Mallarmé.

March
Jules Bois asks him to write the musical score for the esoteric piece Les Noces de Satan, a commission Debussy turns down at the last moment.
At Mallarmé's, he meets the poet Pierre Louÿs. They become close friends in October 1893.

May
Death of his teacher Ernest Guiraud.

Signatures of Claude Debussy [© Centre Debussy]

June
Debussy adopts the shorter Claude as his first name. He signes Claude-Achille for the last time on 4 June 1892.

August
Nocturne pour piano for piano is published by Le Figaro musical.

Two acts of Rodrigue et Chimène are completed.

November
Erik Satie plays Uspud at L'Auberge du clou.

1893

February
Debussy receives financial assistance from Prince André Poniatowski (who had invited him to New York but to no avail).

Spring
He buys a copy of Pelléas et Mélisande at the Flammarion bookshop. On reading it he is inspired by “perhaps the secret thought of a possible music”.
Debussy listens to the works of Palestrina and Vittoria at the church of Saint-Gervais.

8 April
First performance of La Damoiselle élue at the Société nationale de musique, Salle Érard, by Julie Robert and Thérèse Roger, conducted by Gabriel Marie.

23 April
Debussy is elected member of the Committee of the Société nationale de musique, at its general meeting.

6, 11 and 18 May
He plays a version of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre for two pianos with Raoul Pugno, at public lectures given by Catulle Mendès on the Tétralogie. at the Paris Opera.

12 May
Debussy attends the first performance in France of Die Walküre..

17 May
Attends the first and only night of Maeterlincks's play, Pelléas et Mélisande directed by Lugné-Poe.

Debussy on the banks of the River Marne, near Luzancy in June 1893, whilst staying with composer Ernest Chausson [© BnF]

30 May-3 June and from 12 June on
Closer friendship with Ernest Chausson. Debussy goes twice to Luzancy, a property rented by Chausson on the banks of the Marne, with Raymond Bonheur and the painter Henri Lerolle. Bonheur wrote later: “For hours, for whole evenings, Debussy, indefatigable at the piano, initiated us to this extraordinary work [Moussorgsky's Boris Godunov]”

Cover of first edition of La Damoiselle élue (voice and piano, Librairie de l'Art indépendant, 1893) illustration by Maurice Denis, lithography [© Centre Debussy]

July
Publication by Bailly of La Damoiselle élue.
Debussy moves in with Gaby at 10, Rue Gustave Doré.

10 August
Day spent with Paul Dukas, at Saint-Cloud.

September - October
Debussy composes De soirs, fourth piece in Proses lyriques having written the original poem in July.
First drafts of Pelléas et Mélisande, after receiving permission from Maeterlinck to set his play to music, thanks to Henri de Régnier's intermediation.

6-12 November
Travels to Belgium, visits Maeterlinck in Ghent, accompanied by Pierre Louÿs, whose company Debussy had kept regularly for the past few weeks.

Programme of first performance of Debussy's String Quartet [© BnF]

29 December
First performance of the Quatuor à cordes by the Ysaÿe string quartet at the Société nationale de musique.