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  • Chris Anderson

Life In Debussy’s Time

Our composer of the month, Claude Debussy (1862-1918), lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a period known as the Belle Époque or the "Beautiful Era." Here are some of things that were happening at that time.

  • Art and Culture: The Belle Époque was a time of artistic and cultural flourishing in Europe, especially in France. Paris, in particular, was a hub for artistic innovation and creativity. Artists, writers, and musicians were part of a vibrant cultural scene that included movements like Impressionism and Symbolism.

  • Music and Opera: The late 19th and early 20th centuries were characterized by a transition from the Romantic era to the modern period in music. Debussy was at the forefront of this transition, known for his impressionistic compositions that broke away from traditional tonal structures. Opera was also popular during this time, with renowned composers like Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss contributing to the genre.

  • Technology and Industrialisation: Debussy's time witnessed significant advancements in technology and industrialisation. The world was changing rapidly with the proliferation of electric lighting, telephones, phonographs, and early motion pictures. These innovations transformed daily life and had a profound impact on society.

  • Social Classes: Society during the Belle Époque was marked by distinct social classes. The upper class enjoyed luxurious lifestyles, attending lavish parties and cultural events. The middle class expanded, and there was a rise in consumer culture. However, the working class often faced difficult living and working conditions.

  • Colonialism and Global Events: The late 19th century was a period of imperialism and colonial expansion for European powers. France, as one of the major colonial powers, had significant overseas territories. This era also saw significant global events such as World War I, which broke out in 1914 and deeply affected European nations, including France.

  • Fashion and Elegance: The Belle Époque was known for its sense of elegance and fashion. High society members wore extravagant clothing, and Paris became a fashion capital. Women's fashion saw the rise of elaborate gowns and corsets, while men's fashion emphasised tailored suits and top hats.

  • Transportation: The development of railroads and steamships made travel more accessible and efficient during this time. It became easier for people to move between cities and countries, leading to increased cultural exchange and tourism.

  • Literature and Philosophy: Debussy's time was marked by literary and philosophical movements like symbolism, decadence, and existentialism. Writers like Marcel Proust, Paul Verlaine, and Stéphane Mallarmé were influential figures during this period.

  • Social Changes: The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed social and political changes, including calls for women's rights and suffrage, labor movements, and growing political activism.


Debussy's time was a period of immense cultural, social, and technological change, shaping the world into what we know today. It was a time of artistic experimentation, innovation, and exploration of new ideas that contributed to the richness of the Belle Époque.

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