AT THE PARIS CONSERVATORY
IT WOULD NOT have been surprising had Debussy become a painter. There were more artists in Arosa's circle than there were musicians. Unfortunately, because of the "mystery of his childhood," no records are left of his studies -- not even, perhaps, with one of the great masters of the impressionist school, except that he kept a palette zealously, like a sacred relic. But while he did not become a painter, he certainly thought of himself as one in his own art. He added to this illusion not only by calling his compositions "pictures," "sketches," "engravings," "arabesques" and "studies in black and white," but by his own physical appearance and way of living.
However, at Cannes, at the age of seven Debussy was given his first piano lessons. His teacher, an old Italian, Cerutti -- no one seems to have remembered his first name -- was not impressed with him and Debussy never mentioned how long he studied under him. Nothing is known of what happened to the Debussys during the Franco-Prussian War. Most probably the family remained in Paris but the eight-year-old boy stayed with Arosa in Cannes, and either then or upon their return his pianoter was heard by Madame Marie Mauté de Fleurville, a former pupil of Chopin.
As a French poet put it, if a book were written in memory of unknown women of importance, a page should be dedicated to her for the role she played in French poetry and French music at the end of the last century. Madame Mauté de Fleurville was the first to recognize genius in the dissipated, ugly-looking clerk at the Paris town hall, Paul Verlaine, and later welcomed him as her son-in-