Biography

From L'aprés-midi d'un faune to Pelléas

1894

10 January
Debussy joins the Société des auteurs (SACEM), on the recommendation of André Messager and publisher Georges Hartmann, who published under the name Eugène Fromont, and who was later to play a providential role in Debussy's life.

February
Debussy attends the salon of Marguerite de Saint Marceaux (100, boulevard Malesherbes).

February, mid-March
Madame Escudier, Ernest Chausson's mother-in-law, organises a series of ten musical events on Wagner, in her apartment, musically illustrated by Debussy at the piano. Debussy plays in only five of the series, giving the first and last act of Parsifal, the second act of Gotterdämerung, and the last act of Tristan.

mid-February
Debussy completes the first act of Pelléas et Mélisande.

17 February
First performance of two Proses lyriques, De fleurs and De soirs at the Société nationale de musique, by Thérèse Roger and the composer.

Debussy announces his betrothal to the singer Thérèse Roger.

1 March
Debussy Festival in Brussels, at La Libre Esthétique. In the programme, Quatuor à cordes, La Damoiselle élue and two Proses lyriques, performed by Thérèse Roger with Debussy at the piano. Later Debussy wrote that she “sang like a little fairy.”

Mid-March
Anonymous letters denounce Debussy's liaison with Gaby Dupont and his debts. Engagement with Thérèse Roger broken off. Relations with Ernest Chausson also severed.

Summer
Debussy works on the third act of Pelléas et Mélisande and begins the composition of the Nocturnes, three pieces for violin and orchestra, intended for Eugène Ysaÿe.

Autumn
Friendship with Ernest Le Grand, pupil in Massenet's class. Every Sunday, Le Grand comes to play piano duets. They frequent Émile Baudoux's, the music publisher, on Boulevard Haussmann, where they meet Florent Schmitt and Charles Koechlin.

Winter
Composition of Images [oubliées] for piano, dedicated to Yvonne Lerolle. The second of the three pieces for piano, Sarabande, was to become the second in the suite Pour le piano.

First bars, in composer's own hand, of Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune [© BnF]

22 December
First performance of Prélude à l'après-midi d'un fauneat the Société nationale de musique, Salle d'Harcourt, under conductor Gustave Doret. The work was performed twice.

1895

Portrait of Pierre Louÿs [© BnF]

Spring
Close friendship develops with Pierre Louÿs. A number of projects take shape, Cendrelune (libretto worked out in May), Œdipe à Colone and Aphrodite. Meanwhile Debussy continues to work on Pelléas.

August
The opera Pelléas et Mélisande is completed. Debussy sends a draft of the orchestral score to Henry Lerolle. Proses lyriques published by Fromont.

September
Debussy works on the libretto of La grande Bretêche by Balzac, but abandons the project.

Publisher Georges Hartmann grants Debussy a monthly income of 500 francs.

13 and 20 October
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune aplayed at Concerts Colonne, conductor Édouard Colonne.

1896

January
New project with Pierre Louÿs, Daphnis et Chloé, finally abandoned.

February
Publication of Sarabande ((future second piece in Pour le piano).

To improve his finances, Debussy returns to the weekly Wagner musical events, held at the salon of Madame Godard-Decrais, in Rue d'Aguessau.

May
La Saulaie, a new project with Pierre Louÿs.

October
Debussy intends to complete La Saulaie in December, but fails to do so.

November
He halts the composition of the three Nocturnes for violin and orchestra, intended for Eugène Ysaÿe, and breaks off friendly relations.

1897

2 February
Debussy attends the banquet honouring Mallarmé to celebrate the publication of Divagations. Here he makes the acquaintance of the poet José-Maria de Hérédia.

February
Gaby attempts suicide.

20 February
First performance of Debussy's previous year's orchestration of Erik Satie's Gymnopédies 1 and 3, at Salle Érard, with the Société nationale de Musique, conductor Gustave Doret.

June
Begins composing Trois Chansons de Bilitis, including La Flûte de Pan and La Chevelure, on poems by Pierre Louÿs.

April
Debussy speaks of suicide in a letter to Pierre Louÿs.

December
Begins to compose the Nocturnes for orchestra.

1898

Debussy in the Fontaine family home at Mercin, Aisne, where he spent many holidays [© BnF]

April
Composition of two of the Trois Chansons de Charles d'Orléans written for the Lucien Fontaine family choir: Dieu ! qu'il a fait bon regarder and Yver, vous n'estes qu'un vilain.

Spring
Mademoiselle Worms de Romilly becomes his pupil.
Debussy and René Peter begin work on a dramatic satire entitled Frères en art or F.E.A., of which three tableaux remain.

May
First contacts with André Messager and Albert Carré, director of the Opéra-Comique, about Pelléas et Mélisande.

May-September
Composition of Nuits blanches, two settings of his own texts, which Debussy was soon to consider as the second part of Proses lyriques.

End of year
Breaks off with Gaby Dupont.

1899

January
Debussy moves into 58, Rue Cardinet.

April
Begins relationship with Marie-Rosalie Texier, known as Lilly.

15 May
Pierre Louÿs marries Louise de Hérédia.

2 June
Dispatch to Georges Hartmann of the corrected proofs of the Chansons de Bilitis.

10 June
Death of Ernest Chausson.

Debussy and Lilly Texier, whom he married in October [© BnF]

19 October
Debussy and Lilly Texier marry, the ceremony being witnessed by Pierre Louÿs, Erik Satie and Lucien Fontaine.

Debussy completes the Nocturnes.

1900

February
Publication of the Nocturnes by Fromont.

March
Debussy works on copying Pelléas et Mélisande for the Opéra-Comique, and finalizes the score for voice and piano.

10 March
First performance of Tarentelle styrienne (1890), by Lucien Wurmser at Société nationale de musique.

17 mars
First performance of Chansons de Bilitis, by Blanche Marot and Debussy at Société nationale de musique.

23 April
Death of publisher Georges Hartmann.

22 June
Hayot Quartet plays the Quatuor à cordes at the second official session at the Universal Exhibition.

14-23 August
Lilly Debussy goes to hospital.

23 August
La Damoiselle élue is played at the seventh concert at the Universal Exhibition, under conductor Paul Taffanel with Blanche Marot singing the part of the Damoiselle and Laure Beauvais as the Narrator.

Debussy joins the group self-styled the Apaches, whose members include Maurice Ravel, Ricardo Viñes, Lucien Garban, among others.

9 December
First performances of the first two Nocturnes at Concerts Lamoureux, conductor Camille Chevillard.

1901

7 February
First performance of the incidental music for Chansons de Bilitis, written by Pierre Louÿs.

Spring
Strikes up a friendship with the writer Paul-Jean Toulet.

April
Debussy entrusts the two piano transcription of the Nocturnes to Maurice Ravel, Lucien Garban and Raoul Bardac.
Debussy becomes musical critic for the Revue Blanche (giving up in December in the same year). He completes a suite of three pieces entitled Pour le piano, and composes Lindaraja for two pianos.

Spring
The president of the Orchestral Club of Boston, Elisa Hall, commissions Rapsodie pour saxophone, on which Debussy works, mainly in 1903.

3 May
Debussy receives a written undertaking from Albert Carré to put on Pelléas et Mélisande at the Opéra-Comique.

30 May
Maeterlinck presses Debussy to give the role of Mélisande to Georgette Leblanc, Maeterlinck's mistress.

1 July
Debussy invents the character of Monsieur Croche.

The house rented by Claude and Lilly Debussy at Bichain, a village in the Yonne, where they spent three summers (1901, 1902, 1903) [© Centre Debussy]

August
First stay at Bichain in the Yonne, with Lily Texier's parents.

27 October
First full performance of the Nocturnes at Concerts Lamoureux, conductor Camille Chevillard.

30 November
Ricardo Viñes plays the suite Pour le piano at Debussy's home, the start of a collaboration that was to last a further ten years.

End of year
Debussy begins work on the orchestration of Pelléas et Mélisande.

1902

11 January
First performance of Pour le piano (Prélude, Sarabande et Toccata) by Ricardo Viñes at the Société nationale de musique, Salle Érard.

13 January
Start of rehearsals of Pelléas et Mélisande at the Opéra-Comique. For three months, Debussy attends virtually every day.

February
Public conflict between Debussy and Maeterlinck over the choice of Mary Garden for the role of Mélisande.

13 April
Maeterlinck publishes a letter in Le Figaro wishing upon Pelléas et Mélisande “an immediate and resounding flop”.

Pelléas and Mélisande, set design for Act I by Lucien Jusseaume [© BnF]

30 April
First performance of Pelléas et Mélisande with Mary Garden, Jean Périer and Hector Dufrane, conductor André Messager. The score for voice and piano is published in early May, the orchestral score in 1904.

17 May
First performance in Paris of Wagner's Gotterdämerung, conducted by Alfred Cortot at the Théâtre du Château d'Eau.

June
Debussy begins to work on the Devil in the belfry (Le Diable dans le beffroi), a story by Edgar Allan Poe.

12-20 July
First trip to London, on the invitation of André Messager. He attends a performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet with Mary Garden.

24 July -15 September
Second stay in Bichain.

30 October
Second series of ten performances at the Opéra-Comique of Pelléas et Mélisande, last night 6 January 1903.

December
Debussy makes the acquaintance of Louis Laloy, who has just published an article on Pelléas et Mélisande in La Revue musicale. He feels the need to return to musical criticism.