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Claude Debussy was a French composer who was born 150 years ago, in 1862. He wrote some of the most poignant pieces of classical music to date, with sounds original in his time and still wholly relevant in the modern era. Despite dying in 1918, his ideas about the subjective, still nature of music and the possibilities for rearranging notes to suit a person’s moment have had a huge influence on 20th and 21st century music, from pop to classical to jazz.
Using tone, space and his own interior mind to transpose the ideas of impressionism and early modernism onto compositional music, chucking away those huge stompy-stomps of Romanticism, the dominant music of his day and making music still flooring near a century on. In fact, we were struck by the number of Debussy fans – apparent or avowed – among the musicians we love.
First off, here are five great pieces by the guy:
- Claire de Lune
- Arabesque No. 1
- Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
- La Mer
And here are five artists that owe him a debt:
- Blanck Mass
Ben Power’s ambient vastness were picked for Olympic, and Dummy Mix glory recently – and the ex-Fuck Button chose to begin his set with Claire De Lune, which he described as “one of most beautiful pieces of music ever written”.
- The xx
Though they’ve never spoken on the record about the Debussy, if any one band has made so much from Debussy’s dictums that “music is the space between the notes”, “Some people wish above all to conform to the rules, I wish only to render what I can hear”, or “How much has to be explored and discarded before reaching the naked flesh of feeling” (or most of the quotes on his Wiki), it’s the three Putney teenagers who can make worlds collapse in a single, fading tone.
- Steve Reich
It’s obviously in classical music that the French composer has had the greatest of influences, and none more so than “America’s greatest living composer”, as The New Yorker and Dummy would have it, Steve Reich. Several (probably) fascinating papers have been written on this, but for those not au fait with music theory, just take this opportunity to listen to ‘Music For 18 Musicians’ again.
- Anna Calvi
Anni Calvi has spoken often of her admiration for the classical composer.
- Art of Noise
Art Of Noise made “the soundtrack to a film that wasn’t made about the life of Claude Debussy” in 1998, and while that wasn’t all that great to be frank, their still, swooping appropriation of avant garde techniques for the use of brainy pop might have struck a chord with Claude.