Claude Debussy (22 August 1862 - 25 March 1918) was a French composer and pianist. He is often described as the first impressionist composer, although Debussy himself did not like the label.
Debussy was best known for his piano and orchestral works. He was influenced by Russian and Far Eastern music, in addition to the symbolist poetic movement of the late 19th century. His music influenced composers such as Olivier Messiaen and Béla Bartók.
Impressionist elements of Debussy’s music included:
- Untraditional harmony and form
- Melodies that lack directed motion
- Orchestral coloring
- Ornamentation that obscures or substitutes for melody
Below is an excerpt from La fille aux cheveux de lin (Book 1- Prelude No. 8). Look for ornamentation, unconventional elements like time changes, pentatonic scales, and intervals of fourths or fifths that show Debussy’s cultural influences.