Debussy La Mer (The Sea)
3 symphonic sketches.
Written in 1905 in Paris and Eastbourne (south coast of England).
Debussy felt the sea represented liberation, mystery and danger.
Challenge of writing about the sea – everyone has their own ideas of what the sea should sound like.
Debussy was inspired by the Javanese gamelan music and Japanese art and architecture that he heard and saw at the first World Exhibition in Paris, 1889.
Debussy asked that the Japanese woodblock print on the top of your sheet was printed as the front page in the score for La Mer. He loved the picture so much, that he had it hanging on the wall in his study.
Let the music wash over you.
Close your eyes and use your imagination – think about colours, textures, descriptions.
Think about how the music gives an impression of each descriptive title.
Listen to the ways Debussy combines instruments to create different orchestral colours – some combinations sound like new instruments!
There is a very large orchestra, but La Mer has lots of quiet sections, showing off different instruments.
Movement 1: De l’aube a midi sur la mer (From dawn to noon on the sea)
The opening is very quiet with instruments gradually added, building up textures, possibly representing the first light at dawn.
Listen out for the very high violin tremolo, which gives an icy feeling.
At what point do you think Debussy was portraying the sun rising?
Listen out for the flute solo – this has a lonely character, possibly a sea bird or other animal?
About half way through this movement there is a short conversation-like passage between the oboe and solo violin, followed by the return of the solo flute – think about what this might represent.
Listen out for the muted trumpets which are used to create different orchestral timbres.
Can you hear the harp?
Movement 2: Jeux de vagues (Play of the waves)
How does Debussy portray the play or games of the waves?
There are lots of solos in different instruments:
Cor Anglais, Violin (played by the leader of the orchestra), Piccolo, Clarinet, Oboe
Listen out for the solo piccolo and the calm character at the end of the movement.
Movement 3: Dialogue du vent de la mer (Dialogue of the wind and the sea)
This movement feels storm-like.
Listen for the swelling waves (often in the cellos) which build up to climaxes.
Listen out for the solo trumpet. The brass are more prominent in this movement than in previous movements.
Can you hear themes which have been used in the previous movements?
Listen out for the oboe solo – it has a pleading quality. Think about what that might represent.
There is a build up before the end with a trill in the orchestra, prominent timpani and a loud ending
CLAUDE DEBUSSY 1862 – 1918
French, impressionist composer.
Debussy played the piano from a young age, but gave up the idea of becoming a professional pianist when he was a teenager.
Debussy wrote his first composition in 1880.
Impressionism – a style that originated in 19th century French art. The aim was to evoke a mood or feeling, to blur strict lines and form and replace with an impression.
Impressionism in music – Debussy used orchestral instruments in new ways to create his distinctive style, blending the different orchestral timbres and exploring the use of articulation.
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- Debussy La Mer
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