There were many female figures in Debussy’s life, starting with his family at a young age. As mentioned last week, his family went to live with his aunt to escape the war and his aunt paid for his piano lessons.
At the age of 18, he started an affair with Marie-Blanche Vasnier. A married woman and singer, Debussy worked for her as an accompanist. Her husband introduced Debussy to the writings of prominent French writers, influencing some of his song writing.
Nadezhda von Meck was another influence. She was a patroness of Tchaikovsky. Debussy spent a few years travelling with her and her family around Europe. He played four-hand pieces with her, taught music to her children, and performed in private concerts.
When Debussy returned to Paris from his Prix De Rome residency, he became involved with Gabrielle Dupont, the daughter of a tailor. They lived together for a time. He was also briefly engaged to Thérèse Roger. Eventually he left Gabrielle and married her fashion model friend, Rosalie Texier.
At the age of 44, Debussy met Emma Bardac. Married to a Parisian banker, her son was a student of Debussy’s. Debussy decided to end his marriage with Texier. Texier survived an attempted suicide and eventually they were divorced in August of 1905, though the scandal would cost Debussy several of his friends.
Bardac and Debussy lived together in Paris and stayed together until Debussy’s death. They were not legally married until 1908. Their daughter Claude-Emma was born in 1905 and was an inspiration to Debussy. Unfortunately, she died from diphtheria not too long after her father passed. Debussy, Bardac, and Claude-Emma are all buried together in the Passy Cemetery in Paris.
Claude Debussy was born Achille-Claude Debussy in 1862 to parents Manuel-Achille Debussy, a shop owner, and Victorine Manoury Debussy, a seamstress. In 1870, the family moved from Paris to Cannes to escape the Franco-Prussian War. They lived with his father’s sister. At the age of 7, he started piano lessons, paid for by his aunt. His talent was soon evident and at the age of 10 he started at the Paris Conservatory, where he studied until he was 21 years old. In 1884, he won the Prix de Rome which awarded him a scholarship to the Académie des Beaux-Arts with further studying in Rome.
Debussy is known today as one of the main people behind Impressionist music. He went against the norm from the beginning of his studies, challenging styles and concepts. This continued while he was in Rome and he was chastised for his submitted pieces that explored the unusual.
In 1909, he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. One of the earliest colostomy operations was performed on him in 1915. He lived until 1918. His funeral took place in Paris while the city was being bombed by Germany during WWI. Due to that, they were unable to honour him with a full public graveside service.
Bela Bartok lived through both World Wars. We pick up this week’s blog with Bartok at the time of WWI. During this war, he was unable to travel – something he had done quite frequently to gather a variety of folk music. He returned his focus to composing at this point, writing a ballet and his second string quartet.
The years following brought more composing, performing, teaching, his divorce from Marta, his marriage to Ditta, and the birth of his second son, Peter. He also resumed some of his travelling to gather and study folk music.
In 1940, Bartok decided to immigrate to the US. He loved Hungary and the Hungarian people. He was not in favour of the fact that Hungary sided with Germany with the Second World War and his political views caused him some trouble. He sent his manuscripts out of the country first. And then he and Ditta emigrated from Hungary to the US. Two years later their son, Peter, joined them. Peter served in the US army and went on to become a sound engineer after the war. Bartok’s older son, Bela III, chose to stay in Hungary. After surviving the war, he became a railroad official.
He officially became a US citizen in 1945 not too long before his death. Though he was not well-known in the US as a composer, he continued to compose up until his death. He also taught, and worked on a collection of Serbian and Croatian folk songs for Columbia University with Ditta.
Becoming increasingly ill from 1940 onwards, he was eventually diagnosed with leukemia but unfortunately too late for anything to be done. He passed away in September of 1945. He was buried in Hartsdale, New York initially. In 1988, his remains were moved to Budapest where he was interred after a state funeral was held in his honour.