Biography

The Consecration

1903

Ordre National de la Légion d'honneur : Debussy est nommé Chevalier le 13 janvier 1903 [© Centre Debussy]

January
Debussy in promoted Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur thanks to Louis Laloy, who approached Jules Combarieu, director of La Revue musicale and first secretary to the Minister of Public Instruction.

February
Debussy works as a critic for Gil Blas, publishing twenty-five weekly articles until June 1903.

23 February
Lettre ouverte à Monsieur le chevalier C. W. Gluck (Open letter to the honourable Chevalier C. W. Gluck), an article by Debussy delivering a new ideal of the national tradition.

21 April
Debussy concert given at the Schola cantorum.

23 April - 3 May
Second trip to London for Gil Blas to render account of Wagner's Tetralogy, conducted by Hans Richter at Covent Garden.

May - July
Debussy reworks Rapsodie pour saxophone and Suite bergamasque for piano. He begins composing Isle joyeuse.

End June
Gives up Gil Blas and musical criticism, after publishing a last article entitled Bilan musical en 1903 (La Revue musicale of 1903).

Gold fish, 19th Century Japanese lacquer-work, hung on wall of Debussy's study [© Musée Claude Debussy, Saint-Germain-en-Laye]

8 July
Signs contract with Durand for the publication of Images 1st serie (Reflets dans l'eau , Hommage à Rameau, Mouvement) and 2nd série (Cloches à travers les feuilles, Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut and Poissons d'or), including three pieces for two pianos or orchestra, which in 1908 were to become Images pour orchestre.

La Mer, manuscript, page 1 [© BnF]

10 July – 1 October
Third stay at Bichain. Debussy begins La Mer, completes Estampes for piano (Pagodes, La Soirée dans Grenade, Jardins sous la pluie) and corrects the orchestral score of Pelléas et Mélisande.

Autumn
Debussy is estranged from Pierre Louÿs, and strikes his name from the dedication of the second piece of Estampes.

October
Debussy offers Emma Bardac a dedicated copy of Estampes for piano.

14 October
Signs a publishing contract with Durand for Diable dans le beffroi, musical narrative in 2 acts and 3 tableaux which he thinks he will finish in May 1905.

30 October
Twelve further performances of Pelléas et Mélisande at Opéra-Comique.

15 November
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un Faune is on the bill of two Paris symphonic associations, Camille Chevillard conducting at Concerts Lamoureux and Gabriel Pierné at Concerts Colonne.

26 November
Debussy accepts a proposal from music publisher Énoch to complete Briséïs by Emmanuel Chabrier (on a libretto by Catulle Mendès). The project was not completed.

1904

Beginning of year
Debussy composes D'un cahier d'esquisses.
Debussy co-opted to the jury of the Concours de la Ville de Paris (Paris musical competition).

9 January
First performance of Estampes by Ricardo Viñes at the Société nationale de musique.

16 January
Debussy Concert in the apartments of Princess Cystria. On the programme, the Quatuor played by the Zeitlin Quartet, La Mer and Le son du cor s'afflige, first performance of songs sung by Marthe Legrand, accompanied by Debussy, two Proses lyriques and Mandoline by Maurice Bagès accompanied by Debussy, and les Estampes by Blanche Selva.

22 January
Jean Lorrain, a columnist specializing in gossip about the smart and wealthy, publishes an article strongly in favour of the composer, entitled Les Pelléastres, in Le Journal, setting the worldly seal of approval on Debussy's work.

4 February
Further performances of La Damoiselle élue at Opéra-Comique with Mary Garden, conductor André Messager.

February
Debussy records three of the Ariettes oubliées and the locks of hair scene from Pelléas et Mélisande with Mary Garden for the Compagnie française du Gramophone.
Paris Illustré publishes D'un cahier d'esquisses, subsequently purchased by Schott brothers in Brussels.

April-May
Debussy composes Deux danses for harp and orchestra, Danse sacrée and Danse profane, commissioned by the Pleyel piano-making company for the Brussels Conservatoire competition, published almost concurrently with Trois Chansons de France on poems by Charles d'Orléans and Tristan L'Hermite.

May
Concert of Debussy's works performed by Émile Engel and Jane Bathori, who were later to become faithful defenders of the composer's music.

June
Debussy takes a new and momentous step in his personal life, the dedication of Fêtes galantes (2nt serie) to Emma Bardac as testimony to their love. Debussy takes his pet name for her, Petite Mienne (Little Mine), from the poet Jules Laforgue.

15 July
Debussy convinces Lilly to go to Bichain.

Debussy at Pourville (Normandy), where he stayed with Emma Bardac from August to October 1904 [© Centre Debussy]

Beginning August - mid October
Debussy stays with Emma at the Grand Hôtel de Jersey, incognito. Then the couple go to Pourville in Normandy. Debussy corrects the proofs of Masques and Fêtes galantes, and reworks Isle joyeuse.

October
Debussy moves into 10, avenue Alphand.

13 October
Lilly Debussy attempts suicide by shooting herself in the stomach with a revolver.

4 November
The newspapers publicly disclose Lilly's attempted suicide, and many friends draw away from Debussy.

6 November
First performance of Deux Danses at Concerts Colonne, conductor d'Édouard Colonne, Madame Wurmser–Delcourt at the harp.

1905

January
Opening of negotiations with a view to Lilly's divorce, a “sort of a nightmare” lasting until August.

10 February
First performance of Masques and L'Isle joyeuse by Ricardo Viñes, Salle Aeolian. Viñes plays the pieces again a week later at Salle Pleyel at a concert of the Société nationale de musique.

Cover of the score of La Mer, transcribed for four hands by Debussy (Durand, 1905) [© Centre Debussy]

5 March
5 March is the date inscribed on the reduced score of La Mer and on the full orchestral score, marking the completion of the work, to be published in July and made available commercially in November, under its brightly coloured cover design after Hokusai.

31 March
Signing by Debussy and Maeterlinck of the contract of sale of Pelléas et Mélisande to Durand.

5 April
New performance of Pelléas et Mélisande at Opéra-Comique, conductor Alexandre Luigini, for a run of six nights.

4 May
Emma and Sigismond Bardac divorce, Emma being a few weeks pregnant.

Louis Laloy and Jean Marnold try to get Debussy to write in Le Mercure musical, the journal they have just founded.

June
Publication of Suite bergamasque for piano, the last original work by Debussy published by Fromont.

17 July
Debussy signs an exclusive contract with music publisher Jacques Durand. That same day, Debussy is placed under an injunction by the courts to pay Lilly a monthly income of 400 francs. This is paid by Durand, to whom Debussy has assigned copyright.

End July - 30 August
Stays in Eastbourne with Emma. He buys a Blüthner grand piano. Before returning to Paris they spend a few days in London.

2 August
The Civil Court of la Seine pronounces the divorce of Debussy and Lily Texier. In 1905 and 1906, Debussy's only friends are Louis Laloy and Jacques Durand. A new page is turned in his life.

7 August
Correction of the first proofs of La Mer.

October
Debussy and Emma set up at 64, avenue du Bois de Boulogne, Paris (note that in January 1908, the street number changed to 80, avenue du Bois de Boulogne)..

15 Octobre
First performance of La Mer at Concerts Lamoureux, conductor Camille Chevillard.

22 Octobre
Further performance of La Mer by the same orchestra and conductor.

Chouchou Debussy around 1907: Debussy's hand can be made out on the left [© Centre Debussy]

30 October
Birth of Claude-Emma Debussy, known as Chouchou.

6 December
First performance of the third of the Trois mélodies de Verlaine by Madame Camille Fourrier.

14 décembre
First performance of Hommage à Rameau by Maurice Dumesnil.

1906

January
Debussy strikes up a friendship with a young Portuguese musician Francisco de Lacerda and entrusts him with the score of Fêtes de Polymnie by Rameau, which Durand asked Debussy to make ready for publication in the musician's Complete Works.

6 February
Talk by Louis Laloy on “The work of C. Debussy” at the Salle des Agriculteurs. Ricardo Viñes plays Images (1ère serie) in public for the first time..

8 March
Composition of Sérénade à la poupée, to become the third piece in Children's corner.

25 March
Lunch at Durand's with Richard Strauss, who wished to make Debussy's acquaintance.

April
Victor Segalen, a young writer, meets Debussy and talks to him about the music he heard in Polynesia, on his return to France from a two-year stay.

May
Strikes up again with Paul-Jean Toulet, in a closer friendship than before.

June and July
Debussy reverts to work on Ibéria and Diable dans le beffroi.

8 August – 1 September
Stays in the country close to Dieppe, at the Grand Hôtel du Puys.

1 November
New run of Pelléas et Mélisande at the Opéra-Comique, conductor Franz Ruhlmann, for seventeen nights.

December
At the instigation of Georges Jean-Aubry, Debussy is elected honorary member of the Cercle de l'art moderne of Le Havre.

1907

January
Debussy attends rehearsals of Pelléas et Mélisande at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels.

Orchestration of the song Jet d'eau , the third of Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire.

Relations between Debussy and Ravel are clouded by a number of incidents.

juillet
Gabriel Mourey proposes a project for Debussy, based on Bédier's Roman de Tristan.

August – mid- September
Holidays at Pourville, at the Grand Hôtel. Debussy works on Rondes de printemps, the third of Images pour orchestre.

Dedication: “to my good master / Claude Debussy / your affectionately devoted / André Caplet / April 1917” [© Centre Debussy]

October
First visit of André Caplet to organize a concert at Le Havre, the beginning of a collaboration which was to take on great importance in Debussy's life

Victor Segalen dedicates his article Voix mortes: musique Maori to Debussy, published in Mercure musical.

4 November
First performance of the Petite suite in an orchestration by Henri Busser, conductor Camille Chevillard.

November
Debussy plays Images (2nd serie) for piano to Louis Laloy and Ricardo Viñes (Cloches à travers les feuilles, Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut and Poissons d'or). Further work to finalize a libretto based on Tristan.

1908

12 January
For the first time, Debussy conducts one of his own works, La Mer, at Concerts Colonne, with great success.

20 January
Debussy and Emma Bardac marry at the Town Hall of the 16th arrondissement of Paris.

26 January
Debussy conducts La Mer again at aux Concerts Colonne.

1 February
Debussy conducts Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and La Mer at the Queen's Hall in London.>.

21 February
First performance of Images (2nd serie) by Ricardo Viñes.

6 March
La Mer in a transcription by André Caplet for two pianos and six hands is given a concert performance by Marcel Chadeigne, Auguste Delacroix and Roger-Ducasse.

March
Publication by John Lane in London of Claude-Achille Debussy by Louise Liebich, the first biography of the composer.

May
Debussy attends one of the last rehearsals and the dress rehearsal of Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie.

21 May
Debussy in the company of André Caplet attends the second performance of Boris Godunov at the Paris Opéra.

Cover illustration by Debussy of the score of Children's Corner (éditions Durand) written to celebrate the third birthday of his daughter Chouchou [© Centre Debussy]

12 June
Pelléas et Mélisande returns to the boards of the Opéra-Comique, with Maggie Tate in the role of Mélisande, conducted by Franz Ruhlmann, for a nineteen night run.

Summer
The Debussy family finances do not allow them, as in previous years, to spend a month on the Channel Coast.
Debussy completes the composition of Children's corner and Chansons de Charles d'Orléans. He works on the libretto of Orphée by Victor Segalen and on a new story by Edgar Allan Poe, The fall of the house of Usher.

2 October
Debussy makes the acquaintance of an American violinist of Hungarian origin, Arthur Hartmann, who transcribed the second Ariettes oubliées (Il pleure dans mon cœur) for violin and piano.

October
Durand publishes Trois Chansons de Charles d'Orléans.

November
Edgar Varèse visits Debussy.

23 December
First performance of Children's corner by Harold Bauer.

25 December
Completes composition of Ibéria.

30 December
Completes composition of Rondes de printemps.

1909

4 January
Begins composing Gigues.

February
On Gabriel Fauré's suggestion, Debussy becomes a member of the Conseil supérieur of the Conservatoire.

27 February
Debussy conducts Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and Nocturnes at the Queen's Hall in London.

Spring
Debussy has been suffering for some months from “virtually daily bleeding”, the first symptoms of the cancer from which he was to die nine years later.

11 March
First performance of Trois Chansons de Charles d'Orléans by eight singers from the Engel-Bathori choir.

9 April
Debussy conducts La Damoiselle élue and Trois Chansons de Charles d'Orléans at Concerts Colonne.

May
Fifth stay in London for a production of Pelléas et Mélisande at Covent Garden.
He composes The little Nigar and Hommage à Haydn.

Claude Debussy photographed by Félix Nadar (1909) [© BnF]

June
Nadar takes photographs of Debussy in formal poses.

11 juin
Debussy attends a performance of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes at Théâtre du Châtelet, Ivan the Terrible with Chaliapine and Le Festin, Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina being among the dancers.

July
Meeting with Durand to finalize a ballet project with Diaghilev. In a few days, Debussy composes the outline to which the title is given Masques et bergamasques

Summer
Instead of going to a seaside resort on the English Channel as in previous summers, Debussy stays in Paris with his family and close friends.
He works on The fall of the house of Usher after Edgar Poe and corrects the proofs of Rondes de printemps.

September
Publication of Debussy's first French biography, Claude Debussy by Louis Laloy.
Correction of the proofs of Rondes de printemps (third of Images for orchestra) with André Caplet.

Autumn
The painter Henry de Groux paints two pastel portraits and makes a bust of Debussy.

December
Debussy composes Rapsodie for clarinet for the Conservatoire competition, and the first book of Préludes for piano, each precisely dated, from 7 December 1909 - 5 January 1910.