Debussy wrote his Children’s Corner in 1908 for his three-year old daughter, Claude-Emma, whom he nicknamed Chouchou. There are six pieces in the suite ending with the Golliwogg’s Cake Walk, a lively piece inspired by the new wave of American ragtime music. In ternary form, the piece’s middle section is interrupted on several occasions by a phrase mimicking the opening bars of Wagner’s prelude to Tristan und Isolde, followed by a sort of musical chuckle in staccato chords.
At the time that Debussy wrote the piece, Cake Walk contests (in which Negro slaves would caricature the haughty manners of their white owners in song and dance routines) were extremely popular. The winner would be awarded with a prize, normally in the form of a cake. All very un-PC by today’s standards!
A year later Debussy produced another Cake Walk-inspired piece, Le Petit Nègre (The Little Nigar) which his publishers suggested be given the English title The Little Negro so as not to cause offense! The work was written with the intention of providing young pianists with fun, quality music that would also improve their playing.