If Carmen was the one piece of new music that mutually captivated Wagner, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, imagine how much greater an impact it would have on the development of younger composers. The buttoned-up world of classical music grew simultaneously restless and exhausted from years of 'major statements' from composers. New music continued to grow longer, louder, and more dissonant. Younger musicians needed music that did something other than inflame - a warmer music that could relax the senses without conceding intellect.
No doubt the teenage Debussy stood in the stands of the Opera Comique and saw a new way forward.
If time had allowed Bizet to grow older, he might have come to Debussy's whole-tone scales long before Debussy did. Perhaps could have had a late period like Monet's (though one can argue that Faure did, or even Liszt).
- Debussy was right to say that he was different from the Impressionists. He was a full generation younger than Monet/Cezanne et al. Bizet, Faure, Chabrier and Duparc were far closer, the closest music has to equivalents to the impressionists. The insight they share in common is that the eye and ear don't respond to things as they literally are. They respond to the 'essence' of what they see - the flavor of it. The brain responds just as well, if not better, to a vividly false memory as it does to a literal rendering. That is impressionism, and that is the rendering of Gypsies in Carmen, of Spanish rhythms in Chabrier's Espagna, the rendering of old-school chaussons in the Madrigal from Faure's Masques et Bergamasques.
- Debussy was a near-contemporary of Matisse, with whom he has far more in common. Both of them took impressionism to it's next logical step - both being more concerned about the physical material in itself. What prevents them both from being dry (Debussy more successfully) is that they're concerned with how the physical material of their artforms give pleasure.
- Nobody can listen to La Mer and say that