21 Apr 2018

DEBUSSY: La Mer

From Music Alive, 7:30 pm on 21 April 2018
Cover of the 1905 edition of Debussy's La Mer. The illustration is based on Hokusai's Wave.

Cover of the 1905 edition of Debussy's La Mer. The illustration is based on Hokusai's Wave. Photo: Public domain

A seaside getaway at its most sonorous.

  • De l'aube à midi sur la mer (From Dawn till Noon on the Sea)
  • Jeux de vagues (Play of the Waves)
  • Dialogue du vent et de la mer (Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea)

In La mer (The sea) the drama of the sea reflects the trauma of Debussy’s private life – in 1905 he fled across the English Channel to the coastal town of Eastbourne with his mistress in the wake of his wife’s suicide attempt. While such a preface may itself seem melodramatic, the moods and moments in these ‘three symphonic sketches’ suggest Debussy explores both natural and emotional depths.

The critical dialogue following the première of La mer is largely responsible for the ongoing attribution of the term 'impressionism' to Debussy’s music.  He protested to his publisher that the term described the opposite of the ‘realities  he aspired to create.

Despite Debussy’s irritation over defining impressionism, he successfully constructed – as he phrased it – 'something different' in no small part due to his use of the whole tone scale.

By looking beyond mainstream western traditions to expand his musical vocabulary, Debussy began to explore compositional processes that avoided convention.

Recorded 21 April 2018, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert.

Producer: David McCaw

Engineer: Darryl Stack

Related:

  • Curtain Raiser: Debussy - La Mer