French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was one of music’s great innovators. He opened his ears to sounds outside those of the prevailing musical culture of his time. As a result, his music echoes with unusual scales (such as the whole-tone and pentatonic), unorthodox chord progressions and voice-leading (he was fond of consecutive fifths), and sonorities borrowed from non-Western music (he relished the sound of a Javanese gamelan when he heard it at the Universal Exposition of 1889). He did not write a huge body of work but nevertheless made a significant contribution to the piano repertory (with two books of Préludes, among other works), orchestral music (including the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and La Mer) and opera (Pelléas et Mélisande). Debussy’s orchestral music typically calls for a large group of players but he tends not to use the sheer mass of instruments for the sake of volume but, rather, for the full range of colours that they able to provide (significantly, in light of Debussy’s enthusiasm for the gamelan, he tends to favour a largish percussion section). Debussy had a stormy private life. Four years into his marriage he left his wife for a married woman, Emma Bardac. His wife subsequently shot herself while standing in the Place de la Concorde but survived and the bullet remained lodged in her body for the remainder of her life. Debussy married Emma in 1908. Some years before she bore him a child, Claude-Emma, to whom Debussy dedicated his Children’s Corner suite.

© Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra