Claude Debussy
1862-1918
In his quiet, at times even secretive, manner, Claude Debussy was a true harbinger of musical modernism.  Though we tend to think of the dramatic first performance riot of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in 1913 as the great symbolic clash between the old and the new worlds of music, it is Debussy's early demolition of traditional Western harmony that set the table for the Russian émigré.  By absorbing non-Western scales from Asian and Pacific Island cultures, he broke away from our sacrosanct system of tonal harmony.  He did not compose much chamber music, but every work he wrote in that genre from his solitary string quartet to late-life variously scored sonatas, are unassailable masterworks.