Debussy was experimental in his compositions. However, his insistence on doing things his own way and breaking from musical conventions earned him some criticism – his early pieces were described as "bizarre", and "courting the unusual" (which was considered a bad thing).
Debussy is often described as an "impressionist", although he rejected the label. In a letter of 1908, he wrote "I am trying to do 'something different' - an effect of reality...what the imbeciles call 'impressionism', a term which is as poorly used as possible…”
In 1894 he had achieved enormous success with the premiere of his Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) – which was considered a revolutionary work. His seminal opera Pelléas et Mélisande was first performed in 1902, to huge acclaim. He won widespread fame, although some critics continued to snipe at his unusual style.
Despite a tempestuous personal life, that saw him ostracised from Parisian society for a time, his career continued to shine. He died of cancer at the age of 56, in Paris, in 1918.