Classical KUSC


Achille-Claude Debussy: Photo Essay

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 4/7/2016 2:45:00 PM

Of all the Great Composers, Debussy's personal life was among the most turbulent, that is, he scores among the highest in life-stress tests. One such episode involved Mme Emma Bardac, the wife of a wealthy banker and an amateur singer. Having just reached forty, and married four years, Debussy had a love affair with Emma Bardac.

    With Lily Lilo, a few months before
    his affair with Emma Bardac

His wife Rosalie Texier, whom Debussy called "Lily-Lilo," attempted suicide by shooting herself with a revolver, inflicting a wound near her heart. She was in the hospital when Debussy came to see her only once. He left as soon as he learned she would survive the gunshot wound. His friends were brutal in their criticism, and some became estranged from Debussy. He described this time as "strange and bizarre."

Debussy and Emma Bardac

Soon, Debussy moved into an apartment with Emma in the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, where he spent the rest of his life.

Nothing in Debussy's life seems to have brought him more personal satisfaction than the birth of his only child, Claude-Emma, whom Debussy called "Chou-Chou" -- born in October, 1905.

During Chou-Chou’s first two years he composed the Children's Corner Suite and dedicated it to her. Yet when Chou-Chou was barely two Debussy 
undertook several journeys away from home, to England, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Russia to play the piano and conduct his works. Debussy found great success in England in 1908 and 1909, which resulted in international fame, and he was appointed a member of the advisory board of the Paris Conservatory.

Chou-Chou, age three

Chou-Chou was also the inspiration of the children’s ballet La Boite A Joux-Joux. Alas, Debussy died of colon cancer at age fifty-two, when she was thirteen, and Claude-Emma died the next year of diphtheria.

With Claude-Emma, in 1916

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  1. Janet Valentine posted on 02/01/2014 02:54 PM
    What a sad but beautiful story. Debussy was a genius, and who knows what Claude-Emma might have accomplished had she not been struck down at such a tender age. Thanks for including the photos, I'd never seen one of Chou-Chou, though I've often wondered about her when attempting to play the Children's Corner Suite.
  2. richard shapiro posted on 02/05/2014 09:03 AM
    Wonderful display of Debussy and family photos. I wish KUSC would play much more of his music as well that of Ravel, Stravinsky and other more contemporary composers. I do wish you would play a lot less of such conservative and dated composers such as Haydn, Handel and Beethoven.
    We're living in 2014 not 1814. It's more appropriate to play music that's more interesting harmonically and closer to our time, in my opinion. I would listen to the station more often if you played that period of music. I might even subscribe.
    1. margie cherry posted on 06/08/2015 08:52 PM
      @richard shapiro Beethoven DATED??? That must make my favorite composer,
      Brahms, downright prehistoric! And, have you ever heard of that old fossil, J.S. Bach ? The music schools still use the same rules which governed his compositions to teach today's music students.

      Mr Shapiro, maybe you should give this some more thought. I think that KUSC has it just right!
    2. Rick Christie posted on 04/18/2016 11:49 AM
      @richard shapiro Debussy is nice and so are his contemporaries, but he and his contemporaries fade in comparison to Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann, etc. etc. 100 years from now, Beethoven, etc. will still be popular. I have my doubts that much from the 20th century will hold up for as long. You at KUSC play enough 20th century music. Keep up the good work
  3. joe salerno posted on 06/04/2015 07:18 AM
    I wish Debussy had made some recordings of his conducting when he visited England. I also am curious about what happened to Chou-Chou, how long she lived and what her life was like. What happened to her after losing her father at 13 and mother at 14? How long did she live? What did she accomplish with her life?
  4. joe salerno posted on 06/04/2015 07:33 AM
    Well, if I had read better I would have realized that my questions were answered within the article. Claude-Emma died about a year after her father. I was confusing her with her mother. Perhaps both of my comments could be squashed.
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