Favourite French composers

Maurice Ravel

Ravel produced surprisingly little – and much of that in duplicate (piano/orchestra) – but has an amazing strike-rate: a huge percentage of his work, in most genres, has entered the repertoire. Still, he has quite a few detractors…

Website: www.maurice-ravel.net/

Claude Debussy

The most original French composer since Berlioz (and maybe ever), Debussy made up his own rules, contributed mightily to every genre going, and was a pretty good prose writer, too.

Website: www.claude-debussy.com/

Albert Roussel

Little known in the UK, Roussel is full of surprises. He came relatively late to composing, having been in the navy for many years. Unlike his contemporaries Debussy and Ravel – to say nothing of other French composers like Fauré, Satie (whom Roussel taught, despite starting late and being Satie’s junior by two years), Duparc and Poulenc – Roussel did actually write symphonies (worth a listen).

Website: www.opus1.com/~ehoornaert/roussel/

Emmanuel Chabrier

Like his near-contemporary Georges Bizet, Chabrier, despite being besotted with the music of Wagner, can be credited with restoring a certain simplicity and elegance to French music. The operas L’Étoile and Le Roi malgré lui are particularly interesting (Ravel even going so far as to say that he’d rather have written the latter than The Ring of the Nibelung – but then he did call Wagner ‘un grand cauchemar harmonique’).

Website (in French): http://chabrier.emmanuel.free.fr/