Romantic Composer War: Battle 1

Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel

Claude Debussy was born on August 22nd, 1862 in St Germaine-en-Laye to a family of modest means and little cultural involvement. Debussy displayed enough musical talent to be admitted into the Conservatoire de Paris at the age of ten. At the Concervatoire, he began studying piano with Antoine François Marmontel, but his interests turned toward composition partially through his time there. He began studying composition with Ernest Guiraud and harmony with Émile Durand. His musical style raised the eyebrows of the Conservatoire’s conservative professors; however, in 1884 he won the Prix de Rome with his cantata L’enfant prodigue. Debussy gained international acclaim after the premiere of his only opera Pelléas et Mélisande. His career as a composer continued to grow tremendously, and he was quickly regarded as an Impressionist composer despite rejecting the notion (today we consider him to be one of the first Impressionist composers). Debussy died on March 25th, 1918 in his home while the First World War still raged on.

Notable works by Claude Debussy include: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Noctures, two books of Préludes, Pelléas et Mélisande, La mer, and Le Martyre de saint Sébastien.

Maurice Ravel was born on March 7th, 1875 in the town of Ciboure, France (about eleven miles from the Spanish border). Although his parents were not musicians by profession, they were music lovers, and they would later encourage him to apply to the Conservatoire de Paris. Ravel was seen as a difficult student to teach due to his lack of willingness to learn. His later teacher Gabriel Fauré understood Ravel’s desire to be more progressive in his compositions, but the conservative faculty of the Conservatoire could not accept Ravel’s attitude; he was expelled in 1895. His desire to become a composer outgrew his desire to be a pianist. Just as quickly as Debussy, he was regarded as an Impressionist composer. He competed for the Prix de Rome three times, but he never won, only winning second prize in 1901. He would composer for the rest of his life, finding himself in many cultural circles, such as Les Apaches and the Ballets Russes. Ravel passed away on December 28th, 1937 due to unknown causes.

Ravel’s repertoire includes Rapsodie espagnole, Daphnis et Chloé (a full ballet and two suites), Ma mère l’Oye (ballet and suite), La valse, Boléro, L’Heure espagnole, and an orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

I have chosen to pair these two composers together due to the actual conflict that permeated most of their careers. The two were often accused of stealing from one another, and the controversy caused the two to sever all ties from each other. While I admire and respect each composer in their own rights, I would like to know how you feel about them! You can vote on Encoda’s Facebook page (@encodamusic) or Twitter page (@encodamusic).


Claude Debussy
Maurice Ravel



Debussy is the winner! He has made it to the second round!

Photo by Augustin de Montesquiou on Unsplash

Published by Stephen J. Trygar

I am a musicologist and music historian currently residing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My primary focus is on theatrical music (opera, ballet, and incidental music) and symphonic music.

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