Claude Debussy

On this date in 1862, Claude Debussy, the originator of "musical impressionism," was born. Becoming a student at the Paris Conservatoire at 11 years of age, Debussy went on to win the 1884 Prix de Rome. From 1887 on, he spent his life writing musical compositions, rarely performing. His most famous works are "Claire de Lune," and the orchestral "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," based on a poem by his friend Stephene Mallarme. His works included orchestral suites, preludes, a ballet and even an opera. Cancer-ridden, he died during the bombardment of Paris by Germany. “His themes — so frequently taken from Mallarme, Verlaine, Baudelaire, etc., — sufficiently indicated his entire rejection of creeds, and he had a secular funeral” (Joseph McCabe on Debussy in A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, 1920). D. 1918.

"I do not practise religion in accordance with the sacred rites. I have made mysterious Nature my religion. I do not believe that a man is any nearer to God for being clad in priestly garments, nor that one place in a town is better adapted to meditation than another. When I gaze at a sunset sky and spend hours contemplating its marvelous ever-changing beauty, an extraordinary emotion overwhelms me. Nature in all its vastness is truthfully reflected in my sincere though feeble soul. Around me are the trees stretching up their branches to the skies, the perfumed flowers gladdening the meadow, the gentle grass-carpetted earth, . . . and my hands unconsciously assume an attitude of adoration. . . . To feel the supreme and moving beauty of the spectacle to which Nature invites her ephemeral guests! . . . that is what I call prayer."

—Claude Debussy, as quoted in Claude Debussy: His Life and Works (1933) by Léon Vallas, p. 225

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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