Debussy was born on August 22, 1862 to Manuel-Achille Debussy and his wife Victorine in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Seine-et-Oise, on the northwest fringes of Paris, France. His parents were poor, working-class people: his mother was a seamstress and his father was the owner of a failing china shop. In 1864, Manuel was forced to sell his shop and the family relocated to Paris where they eventually settled into an apartment in the Rue Saint-Honoré in 1868.
But then, in 1870, Debussy and part of his family had to move to Cannes in order to escape the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. It was during this time that Debussy’s aunt paid for his first piano lessons with an Italian musician, Jean Cerutti. About a year later, he began taking lessons from Antoinette Mauté de Fleurville, a woman who claimed to have studied under Chopin (though that was never verified).
It didn’t take long for Debussy’s talents to emerge. In 1872, at age 10, he was admitted to the Conservatoire de Paris. For the next 11 years, he worked under many musicians including Antoine François Marmontel, Albert Lavignac, Ernest Guiraud, Émile Durand, César Franck, and Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray. Though not particularly attentive to his studies--he was known to skip class--Debussy received an award for his performance as a soloist performing the first movement of Chopin's Second Piano Concerto at the Conservatoire's annual competition in 1874.
In 1879, with the help of one of his professors, Debussy was given a job as resident pianist at the Château de Chenonceau. His first compositions--"Ballade à la lune" and "Madrid, princesse des Espagnes"--were composed around this time, both inspired by poems from Alfred de Musset. The following year, he secured a job as pianist in the household of Nadezhda von Meck, the patroness of Tchaikovsky. Over the next two years he traveled all over Europe with her, composing music and even transcribing a piano duet of three dances from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.
by Maya Greenfield-Thong, Literary Assistant