Best music by Debussy: top 10 pieces by the French composer

June 22, 2022, 1:07 p.m.

Debussy’s greatest masterpieces.

Photo: Aliyah


From lazy woodland creatures on a hot summer day to the plains of southern Spain, Claude Debussy is the unrivaled master of evocative musical imagery.

Forever entwined in the imagination of his admirers with lethargic fauns and idyllic forests thick with summer mist, Claude Debussy was classical music’s answer to the Impressionist art movement that took Paris by storm in the mid to late 19th century. century.

Like Monet, Cézanne and Renoir were masters of the visual arts, Debussy was a master at creating complex and compelling soundscapes, transporting his audience to dreamlike worlds with his musical daydreams.

  1. Little Suite (1907)

    Originally written for piano four hands, Debussy Small Suite was orchestrated by his colleague Henri Büsser in 1907. Composed of four movements, the first evokes a picturesque view of the sea. gently swaying waves, while flute melody hovers over sighing strings and harp glissandos.

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  2. Games (1913)

    Debussy Games is a one-of-a-kind piece of music. Premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1913, just two weeks before Stravinsky’s riot Rite of Spring, it has been described by the composer as a “danced poem”. The piece was commissioned by the dynamic ballet duo Sergei Diaghilev and legendary choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, to be performed by Diaghilev’s company, the Ballets Russes. It follows a vague story of a boy, two girls and a tennis ball, which ultimately remains unresolved – much like many of Debussy’s harmonies.

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  3. Iberia (1912)

    The second movement of Images for orchestra, “Iberia” is made up of three movements, each representing images of Spain: its streets and paths, the scents of the night and the “morning of a festive day”. It’s an adventurous musical paradise of tinkling drums, clanking castanets and ringing church bells, evoking the sunny Iberian Peninsula.

  4. The Girl with the Flaxen Hair (1910)

    Debussy wrote two books of preludes for solo piano, the first in 1909-1910 and the second in 1912-1913. By far the best known is the girl with linen hair, or “The girl with the linen hair”. With a performance mark meaning “very calm and gently expressive”, it is a short and simple work that, in just a few minutes, perfectly portrays the sweet innocence often associated with golden hair in fine art.

  5. Reverie (1884)

    Debussy Reverie is another one of those beautifully dreamlike solo piano pieces that cement its composer as one of the greats of the 20th century. With gently swaying patterns, contrasting rhythms in the left and right hands, and lots of rubato, the music creates a pleasant feeling of floating and weightlessness.

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  6. Pelléas and Mélisande (1902)

    Although he began to write several, Pelléas and Mélisande is the only opera completed by Debussy. As a young composer, Debussy was in awe of Wagner’s operas, traveling to the Bayreuth Festival to see them. And yet, as he told a friend, he had to be careful not to let himself be too influenced by the works of the titan of 19th-century opera: he had seen other French composers attempt to emulate the style, and found it “dull”. And so Pelléas and Mélisande is the perfect crucible of laissez-faire French Impressionism and Wagnerian Drama.

  7. The Sea (1905)

    The seawhich translates to “The Sea”, was first performed in Paris in late 1905. Inspired by artists’ depictions of the sea rather than the sea itself, one of the following reviews to a chilling reception at the premiere was: “I don’t hear, I don’t see, I don’t smell the sea”. Other reviewers wrote that it did not depict the sea, but rather “the sea”. ‘turbulent water in a saucer’. Nevertheless, in consecutive performances the piece was far more favorably received and remains to this day a favorite of the world’s top orchestras.

  8. Moonlight (1905)

    Think relaxing piano music, and Debussy’s beautiful “Moonlight” probably comes to mind. It is the third and most famous movement of Bergamo Suitewhich Debussy began writing in 1890 and finally finished in 1905. So the story goes that Debussy originally did not want these early pieces made public, but eventually accepted a publisher’s offer – and thank God he did.

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  9. Two Arabesques (1891)

    Debussy wrote his Two arabesques for solo piano while still in his twenties, between 1888 and 1891. Despite the composer’s young age, the whimsical, dreamlike character for which his music would come to be known and loved can already be heard, paving the way for the French Impressionism in Music.

  10. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1894)

    Beginning with one of the most iconic orchestral flute solos ever written, Debussy wrote Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”) in 1894. It was inspired by a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé, in which a faun wakes up from his afternoon sleep and recounts a series of you with forest nymphs. Debussy’s sinuous score and rich orchestration captivate his audience and take them to the heart of the forest on a balmy summer’s day, to hear tales of the faun’s afternoon amid the intoxicating scents of the pine forest, floating in the breeze.

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