12 Of The Greatest Debussy Piano Pieces Of All Time

Avatar photo
Written by Robert Jackson
Last updated

If you are someone who likes to envision spring showers, cafes in Paris, rolling hills, and gorgeous flowers, then you would probably like the works of Claude Debussy. Along with Ravel, he is one of the most popular French composers of all time. In a lot of ways, he is responsible for revolutionizing the work of romantic piano. His music is still loved throughout Asia, Europe, and the United States, and in many ways, he set the stage for modern piano.

So, if you are looking for an introduction here’s our list of the greatest Debussy piano pieces of all time. Let’s get started.

1. Clair de Lune

Without a doubt, Clair de Lune is Debussy’s most popular piece of all time. If you think you haven’t heard this piece, listen to it, and you’ll almost certainly recognize it.

It’s been featured in countless adverts and movies such as Ocean’s Eleven.

Just about everyone who is learning how to play the piano will learn how to play this piece at some point.

It is popular among intermediate piano lessons, and it comes from his greater series, Suite Bergamasque, which he published in 1890.

It is a relatively slow, understated, but also beautiful work that perfectly encapsulates the style of Debussy.

2. Reflets Dans L’eau

Next, you should check out Reflets Dans L’eau. It means reflections in the water, and that is exactly what you will envision as you play this piece.

As you take a look at the surface of the water, you might also be looking at the moon, the Sun, or a nearby light on the street.

Regardless, Debussy and some of the most popular impressionist painters of the time envisioned ripples in the water creating a gorgeous reflection.

Pay close attention to the music as it moves, and see if you can envision something reflecting in the water as well.

3. Et La Lune Descend Sur Le Temple Qui Fut

Et La Lune Descend Sur Le Temple Qui Fut is another piece from his set of Images, and he tries to imitate the sound of the orchestra, which he heard at the World Fair of 1900, which took place in Paris.

This is a unique work that opened up a new style of musical language, and as you listen to it, you will hear that new language come to life as well.

Pay close attention to the piece as the mood changes, and then consider tackling after yourself.

4. Arabesque No. 1

Another piece by Claude Debussy you might want to listen to is called Arabesque No. 1.

This is a piece that has multiple melodies that come together to create a beautiful soundscape that perfectly encapsulates his unique approach to piano composition.

If you have ever taken a look at Art Nouveau, you might find yourself envisioning it as you listen to this beautiful piano piece.

Both the music and the style of art emerged at the end of the 19th century, and they go perfectly together.

Even though there are multiple melody lines crossing one another, this is still an intermediate piece. If you have a bit of experience playing the piano, you may want to try it for yourself.

5. Les Sons et Les Parfums Tournent Dans L’air Du Soir

Les Sons et Les Parfums Tournent Dans L’air Du Soir is an absolute tapestry of various moods and images.

You will hear a lot of mischief and eccentricity set against the bleakness of the overall piece.

It is a perfect reflection of everything that Debussy stands for, and his style is on full display.

It was published in 1910, and a lot of people feel it is reminiscent of some of the poems of Charles Baudelaire.

It is challenging work, but it is one that a lot of pianists have decided to take on.

6. Toccata

Toccata is a unique work that harkens back to many of the earlier pieces in the world of classical piano.

Debussy is a composer of the Romantic Period, which took place after the classical works of Beethoven and Mozart.

This piece is reminiscent of both the classical era and the Baroque Era, which took place before the classical era.

As you listen to this piece, you may feel like you are listening to a piece written by Bach, but it is simply a showcase of the talents of Debussy.

7. Das Pas Sur La Neige

Das Pas Sur La Neige is another piece that comes from the Preludes book, and it speaks to the loneliness of the human condition.

It’s meant to be reminiscent of winter, and the listener should feel like he or she is lost in a desolate landscape.

When the temperature gets cold, the winter in France can be absolutely brutal.

That is exactly what people feel as they listen to this piece, and it is one that the pianist should try to bring out with every note.

8. Hommage a S. Pickwick

Hommage a S. Pickwick is a piece that pays homage to Pickwick, one of the main characters of a book by Charles Dickens that shares the same name.

Even though the piece starts off relatively slowly, it soon descends into a comic landscape.

It has a fun, happy sound that will put a smile on the face of anyone who listens to it.

This is a piece that is meant for intermediate pianists, so you may want to try playing it for yourself.

9. Pagodes

Pagodes is the first of three Debussy works that fall under the category of Estampes, which he published in 1903.

At this time, Asia was still a mysterious world to many people who lived in Europe, but Debussy was attracted to the unique architecture, thus the name of the piece.

If you listen closely to the music, you will indulge in a pentatonic scale.

It will be set against the backdrop of traditional European music, and the marriage of the two styles is very appealing to the listener.

10. Arabesque No. 2

If you are in the mood to do a bit of dancing, you may want to listen to Debussy’s Arabesque No. 2.

There are multiple melodies that go back and forth with one another, creating a gorgeous sound that many people will fall in love with.

11. Jimbo’s Lullaby

Jimbo’s Lullaby is another piece that comes from the Children’s Corner of Debussy.

As the name suggests, all of the pieces are meant for children. Either they have been written for children to listen to, or they have been written for children to learn how to play on the piano.

This is a slower piece, but it is no less beautiful. The purpose of this piece was to teach children how to use the pedal as they play, but it can be played by anybody.

If you are in the mood to try something new, you may want to try it for yourself.

12. Golliwog’s Cakewalk

And finally, Golliwog’s Cakewalk is a very happy, upbeat piece that comes from Debussy’s set of pieces called Children’s Corner.

There are six pieces and all, and they are certainly evocative of playing children.

Many people call this piece Chou Chou, and it bears a lot of similarities to Ragtime music that would come shortly after.

But, despite its fun sound, it’s not aged well due to the racist connotations of the Golliwog.

Explore the Piano Works of Claude Debussy

These are just a few of the many pieces that were written by Debussy.

His work was varied, his pieces were vast, and his skills as a composer on full display throughout all of these works.

Some of the pieces are more challenging than others, but every piece is meant to create images in your head.

You might want to consider trying some of these pieces for yourself.

He is a titan of the Romantic era, and many of his pieces are still played regularly to this day.

This is a great way for you to expand your piano repertoire, so consider checking out a few of these pieces.

Photo of author

Robert is a professional pianist and writer who's been playing the piano for over 20 years. He studied music education at college and now works as a full time musician and piano teacher all over the country.