Claude Debussy (Achille-Claude Debussy)

Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy’s private life was often turbulent. At the age of 18 he began an eight-year affair with Marie-Blanche Vasnier, the wife of Parisian civil servant Henri Vasnier. The relationship eventually faltered following his winning of the Prix de Rome in 1884 and obligatory residence in Rome. On his permanent return to Paris and his parents’ home on the rue de Berlin (now rue de Liège) he began a tempestuous relationship with Gabrielle (‘Gaby’) Dupont, a tailor’s daughter from Lisieux, soon living with her on the rue de Londres, and later the rue Gustave Doré. During this time he also had an affair with the singer Thérèse Roger, to whom he was briefly engaged. Such cavalier behaviour was widely condemned, and precipitated the end of his long friendship with Ernest Chausson. He ultimately left Dupont for her friend Rosalie (‘Lilly’) Texier, a fashion model whom he married in 1899, after threatening suicide if she refused him. However, although Texier was affectionate, practical, straightforward, and well liked by Debussy’s friends and associates, he became increasingly irritated by her intellectual limitations and lack of musical sensitivity. Moreover, her looks had prematurely aged, and she was unable to bear children. In 1904 Claude Debussy was introduced to Emma Bardac, wife of Parisian banker Sigismond Bardac, by her son Raoul, who was one of his students. In contrast to Texier, Bardac was a sophisticate, a brilliant conversationalist, and an accomplished singer. After dispatching Lilly to her father’s home at Bichain in Villeneuve-la-Guyard on 15 July 1904, Debussy secretly took Bardac to Jersey for a holiday. On their return to France, he wrote to Texier on 11 August from Dieppe, informing her that their marriage was over, but still making no mention of Bardac. He briefly moved to an apartment at 10 avenue Alphand. On 14 October, five days before their fifth wedding anniversary, Texier attempted suicide, shooting herself in the chest with a revolver while standing in the Place de la Concorde; she survived, although the bullet remained lodged in her vertebrae for the rest of her life. The ensuing scandal was to alienate Debussy from many of his friends, whilst Bardac was disowned by her family.

In the spring of 1905, finding the hostility towards them intolerable, Claude Debussy and Bardac (now pregnant) fled to England, via Jersey. Bardac’s divorce was finalized in May. The couple settled at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, from 24 July to 30 August 1905, where Debussy corrected proofs to his symphonic suite La mer, celebrating his divorce from Texier on 2 August. After a brief visit to London, the couple returned to Paris in September, buying a house in a courtyard development off the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne (now Avenue Foch) where Debussy resided for the rest of his life. Their daughter (the composer’s only child) Claude-Emma was born there on 30 October. Her parents eventually married in 1908, their troubled union enduring until Debussy’s death in 1918. Claude-Emma, more affectionately known as ‘Chouchou’, was a great musical inspiration to the composer (she was the dedicatee of his Children’s Corner suite). Claude-Emma outlived her father by scarcely a year, succumbing to the diphtheria epidemic of 1919 after her doctor administered the wrong treatment. Mary Garden, who played the part of Melisande in the original production of Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902, was to write of him: “I honestly don’t know if Claude Debussy ever loved anybody really. He loved his music – and perhaps himself. I think he was wrapped up in his genius… He was a very, very strange man.”  Claude Debussy died of rectal cancer at his Paris home on 25 March 1918,

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  • August, 22, 1862
  • Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France


  • March, 25, 1918
  • Paris, France

Cause of Death

  • rectal cancer


  • Cimetiere de Passy
  • Paris, France

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