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 theChildren’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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