Five essential works by Debussy

We choose the best pieces by the modern face of French opera, Debussy

Debussy famous works

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune

This seductive and sultry orchestral masterpiece quietly wrought a revolution more profound than Wagner’s Tristan.


Recommended recording:
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
Philips 438 7422 (2 discs)


Three contrasting orchestral tone poems – by turns languid, lively and seductive – which impressed not only Ravel but also composers outside France.

Recommended recording:
LSO/André Previn
EMI 391 9672

La mer

A vivid portrait of the sea in all its moods, La mer is the nearest that Debussy came to writing a symphony, with a lively scherzo (‘Play of the waves’) and a rousing finale.

Recommended recording:
Singapore SO/Lan Shui

Preludes Books 1 & 2

On one level a series of miniature tableaux – ranging from landscapes and atmospheres to thumbnail sketches of literary characters – these piano piece also provide a superb overview of Debussy’s range as a composer.

Recommended recording:
Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Decca 452 0222 (2 discs)

Pelléas et Mélisande

Debussy’s understated, almost dream-like opera about young lovers caught up in an extra-marital affair exerts an extraordinary and unforgettable spell on its listeners.

Recommended recording:
Vienna State Opera/Claudio Abbado
DG 435 3442 (2 discs)