Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)



Debussy lived through a period of immense change - socially, economically and politically - in France.

Donald Macleod considers how the events Debussy witnessed firsthand - which include the Commune, the birth of the Second Empire and the First World War - helped shape his musical expression.

Feux d'artifice, Second Book of Preludes

Krystian Zimerman (piano)

Green and Spleen from Ariettes Oubliées

Dawn Upshaw (soprano)

James Levine (piano)

Excerpt from l'Enfant Prodigue

Jessye Norman (soprano)

Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra

Gary Bertini (conductor)

La Damoiselle Elue

Maria Ewing (soprano)

Brigitte Balleys (mezzo soprano)

London Symphony Orchestra

Claudio Abbado (conductor)


Alexis Weissenberg (piano).


Debussy's music is often linked with the artistic term impressionism.

Although there are clear parallels of subject matter between the two art forms, Debussy was influenced by all the prevailing artistic currents in Paris.

Donald Macleod explores the melting pot.

La catedrale engloutie

Krystian Zimerman (piano)

En blanc et noir

Katia and Marielle Labèque (piano)


Concertgebouw Orchestra

Collegium Musicum Amstelodamense

Bernard Haitink (conductor)


Dawn Upshaw (soprano)

James Levine (piano).

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Café society was a fundamental element of 19th-century Paris, and Debussy enjoyed going to some of the most famous establishments.

It was in these watering holes that he mixed with some of the most influential artistic groups of the day.

La plus que lente

Walter Gieseking (piano)

L'après-midi d'un faune

Paris Orchestra

Daniel Barenboim (conductor)

String Quartet

Talich Quartet

Recueillement from Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire

Christopher Maltman (baritone)

Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Prelude to Rodrigue et Chimène

Lyon Opera Orchestra

Kent Nagano (conductor).

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Like many composers of the period, Debussy was deeply affected by Wagner's operas.

Donald Macleod looks at how Debussy was inspired - both by what he'd seen in Bayreuth and by the prevalent artistic influences in Paris - to write his dramatic works.

Rodrigue et Chimène (excerpt)

Gilles Ragon (tenor)

Hélène Jossoud (mezzo soprano)

Donna Brown (soprano)

Laurence Dale (tenor)

Chorus and Orchestra of Lyon Opera

Kent Nagano (conductor)

Pelléas et Mélisande, excerpt from Act 3

Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo soprano)

Wolfgang Holzmair, Laurent Naouri (baritone)

National Orchestra of France

Bernard Haitink (conductor)


Vienna Philharmonic

Lorin Maazel (conductor)

The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (excerpt)

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra

James Conlon (conductor).

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Debussy was a complex character.

Donald Macleod builds a picture of a contradictory figure from the accounts left behind by those who knew him.

Trois poèmes de Stephane Mallarmé

Sandrine Piau (soprano)

Jose van Immerseel (piano)

Images (Iberia)

Montreal Symphony Orchestra

Charles Dutoit (conductor)

Violin sonata

Augustin Dumay (violin)

Maria Joo Pires (piano)

La Mer (Dialogue du vent)

Philharmonia Orchestra

Geoffrey Simon (conductor).