Ernest Chausson was the son of wealthy parents, born at a relative late state of their lives on January 21, 1855. They opposed a law-degree but didn't mind that he wanted to study music. In a letter to his unofficial 'godmother', Mme de Rayssac he wrote:
"Ever since my childhood, I have believed that I would write music. Everybody counsels me against it. So, I try painting and literature; everyone gives me different advice."
Started his study composition at age of 25 at the Paris Conservatory in the class of Massenet. After one year of study, he submitted work for the 'Prix de Rome' which he did not receive. Upon that he left the conservatory. He continued his studies privately with Franck from 1882 till 1883. Here he learned to work precisely and slowly, which became his usual way of working throughout his life.
In a very interesting letter in 1886 to one of his friends, Poujard, he wrote the following about his thoughts on music:
'You know my antipathy towards descriptive music. At the same time, I felt incapable of writing pure music like Bach and Haydn. Therefore, I had to find something else. I have found it. It only remains to be seen whether I shall have the power within me of expressing what I am feeling. As long as I am only thinking of it, I am full of confidence; only I have a pencil in my hand, I feel like a very small boy.'
Ernest Chausson served as a secretary for the 'Société Nationale de Musique' for ten years. This important society was created in 1871 by many prominent French composers, including Fauré, Saint-Saens and Franck. The purpose of this organisation was to choose and promote and develop the French music.
The typical style of Chausson's composition style is a combination of late-romantic harmonies like that of Franck and Wagner, one of the composers that he admired greatly (but also thought to be a curse for his own composition style, as we can see from many letters that he wrote). This type of harmonic use has also been called 'ultra-chromatic diatonicism' by Alfredo Casello. With this, these late romantic composers were able to extend the harmonic colours though keeping a stable tonality.
Most of Chausson's works consists of songs and this melodic quality is also visible in his chamber music. In combination with dense chromaticism, many different types of modulations and the use of church-modes makes his music idiosyncratic.
Chausson's house was home to an incredible collection of art. It included paintings from Corot, Courbet, Delacroix, Degas, Redon and others. Next to paintings, he had an extensive library that included classical literature, poetry and philosophical works.
At the end of his life, which ended tragically through a bicycle accident, he was working on many projects, including a violin-piano sonata.