The French Inspired Classical Music – Part 1

When it comes to classical music most people’s thoughts immediately jump to Germany or perhaps Russia. And although Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky certainly led the way in some respects, let’s not forget the in-depth influence that the great French composers had on proceedings. In fact, much of the harmony, form and rhythm of classical music gives most thanks to Boulez, Debussy and Berlioz.

But who were the great French composers? The ones that influenced classical music the most? One endearing fact about French composers is that they hail from all walks of life and produced music from vastly different periods. Some French composers found fame during the Romantic period whilst others flourished during the Renaissance.

In this blog we search for the best ever French classical composers who left their mark on history, whether it be the impressionist style of Debussy or the avant-garde of Eric Satie. Although trying to differentiate between them is rather a passionate argument and our list is by no means definitive.

Claude-Achille Debussy

One of the greatest composers of the 20th Century was Claude Debussy. Born in 1862 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye he was displaying his musical talent by the time he seven with piano lessons, and at the tender age of ten he was enrolled in the Paris Conservatory.

In 1894 Debussy composed his first important and major work, Prelude a L’Apres-midi d’un Faune. This piece made Debussy famous for his Impressionist style which elevated him to become the leader of the movement at that time. One of his close associates of this form of music was Ravel, who’s music epitomized the way it should be written and played which was in a gentle way. All this was very different to what went just before with the highly orchestral works of the likes of Mahler and Wagner.

There is no doubt that Claude Debussy left a lasting influence on many composers that followed him, his imaginative and impressionist style of composing together with his great ability to create this gentle music, even with a full orchestra would leave an important legacy. As well as Prelude a L’Apres-midi d’un Faune other famous works included, Nocturnes, La Mer and Pelleas et Melisande.

Hector Berlioz

Berlioz was born into a medical background and his father pushed him into a medical career that the budding composer was frankly opposed to. He gave up his medical studies in 1824 to pursue music, and it was said that the first time Berlioz attended a dissection he ran from the room, which heavily influenced his decision.

Support from his father was minimal following this when he entered the Conservatoire in Paris as a music student. But Berlioz persisted in his chosen profession and after watching a performance of Hamlet he was inspired to write one of his greatest ever works, Symphonie Fantastique.

Around the 1830’s Berlioz became prolific in his writing of music and produced a number of works, including Grande Masse des Morts, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and La Damnation de Faust. Hector Berlioz music was first rejected by the French people, his new approach was radical and rejected music forms that went before. Of course, this in turn lead to rejection by the audiences, but it was only temporary and soon turned into admiration.