Often linked with his contemporary Claude Debussy he was influenced by Igor Stravinsky's work in Paris in the first decades of the 20th century. He studied under Gabriel Fauré at the Paris Conservatoire, and won recognition with his "Pavane pour une infante défunte" (1899, "Pavane for a Dead Princess"). He wrote several successful piano pieces, including "Rapsodie espagnole" (1908, "Spanish Rhapsody"), and the music for the Diaghilev ballet's performance of "Daphnis et Chloé" (first performed in 1912). After World War I, in which he saw active service, he toured, to great acclaim, in America where he admired jazz music; a style which would later influence some of his own compositions. His works included the "choreographic poem" "La Valse" (1920), the opera "L'Enfant et les sortilèges" (1925, "The Child and the Enchantments"), and "Boléro" (1928), intended as a miniature ballet.
He is name-checked on the cover of "Freak Out!" (1966) under the heading "These People Have Contributed Materially In Many Ways To Make Our Music What It Is. Please Do Not Hold It Against Them". "Piano Concerto in G" was one of the 10 records FZ selected (in 1989) for the American radio show Castaway's Choice, hosted by John McNally. FZ would often perform Boléro in concerts and included it on The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life, although it had to be removed from European issues due to copyright problems.