Biography

Prix de Rome

1883

January-March
Debussy makes a collection of thirteen of his songs for Marie Vasnier. He works on Diane au bois, a comic opera on a poem by Théodore de Banville.

March
Debussy takes over from Paul Vidal as accompanist to the Amateur Choral Society La Concordia, whose honorary president president is Charles Gounod.

5-11 May
Admitted for the Prix de Rome competition. He is ranked fourth with Invocation, for male voice choir and orchestra on a text by Alphonse de Lamartine.

19 May -13 June
Admitted for the final competition for the Prix de Rome. Debussy wins second prize with Le Gladiateur, a cantata to words by Émile Moreau.

The first prize goes to Paul Vidal.

September – November
Debussy discovers Paul Bourget‘s collection Les Aveux from which he extracts Romance, Musique and Paysage sentimental.

1884

10 January
Concert given with La Concordia, to be followed by three further concerts on 1 March, 8 April, and 21 May.

10-16 May
Admitted for the preliminary competition for the Prix de Rome. He is ranked fourth with Le Printemps, for mixed choir and orchestra to words by Jules Barbier.

Cover of the first edition of the Cantata L'Enfant prodigue (Durand, 1884) [© BnF]

24 May - 18 June
Admitted for the final competition for the Prix de Rome: Debussy receives first prize with L'Enfant prodigue, a lyrical piece for the stage on a libretto by Édouard Guinand, sung by Rose Caron, Ernest Van Dyck and Alexandre Taskin.

1885

28 January
Debussy goes to Rome to study at the Villa Médicis, in the company of Paul Vidal, Gabriel Pierné and Georges Marty, under the supervision of Louis Cabat. The first few months in Rome are unhappy. Debussy makes no effort to adapt to his new life.

27 April – beginning May
Short stay in Paris where he returns to the Vasnier family.

8 June
Ernest Hébert is appointed director of the Villa Médicis, accompanied by his wife Gabrielle. Debussy now enters the social whirl, playing his songs for the Hébert soirées. He makes friends with Gustave Popelin, a painter also studying at Villa Médicis, and works on Zuleima, a symphonic ode after Henri Heine, his first musical work sent back to Paris from Rome.

8 July
Debussy is granted leave of absence from Villa Médicis, at his request, for around two months. He stays in Dieppe with Marie Vasnier, without her husband knowing.

Photo of Debussy in Rome in 1885, the first year of his residency at Villa Médicis [© BnF]

2 September
Return to Rome, torn by passion and jealousy. He spends a few days at the property of Count Primoli at Fiumicino.
Marcel Baschet, a painter, also on a scholarship at the Villa Médicis, paints a pastel portrait of Debussy.

November
Debussy hears two masses by Palestrina and Orlando de Lassus at Santa Maria dell'Anima Church. “The only church music I will accept”

End of year
Works on Diane au bois and on the composition of two new songs on poems by Paul Bourget, Romance et Les Cloches.

1886

7 January
Debussy hears Aïda at the Apollo Theatre.

8 January
Franz Liszt is a guest at the Villa Médicis. Debussy and Paul Vidal play the Faust-Symphonie for two pianos.

13 January
Liszt at Villa Médicis plays his transcription of Schubert's Ave Maria and Au bord d'une source.
Debussy composes “Green” a song based on a poem from Verlaine's Ariettes (later Ariettes oubliées).

February
Arrival as a scholar at Villa Médicis, of Xavier Leroux. For a year, he Vidal and Debussy form an “inseparable trio”.

July - August
Leave of absence in Paris.

October
Debussy is likely to have stayed in Paris.

1887

February
He completes Printemps, a symphonic suite, his second work submitted to Paris from Rome, severely judged by the Institut.

Villa Médicis at the time of Debussy's residency

2 March
Debussy leaves Rome for good, and goes back to his parents in Paris, returning to the company of his brother Alfred, who has an interest in literature and has published a translation in the Revue indépendante of a poem by D. G. Rossetti, Le Bourdon et la besace.

13 March
Debussy hears the first act of Wagner's Tristan et Isolde at the Concerts Lamoureux: “Decidedly the finest thing I know!”
He makes friends with Paul Dukas, Michel Peter and Ernest Chausson.

December
Debussy composes La Mort des amants, the last piece in the Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire.