Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: approx. 25 minutes
Genre: symphonic poem/symphony (varying classification)
Time of Creation: 1903–1905
World Premiere: October 15, 1905 (Paris)

Table of Contents

Debussy's La Mer in 5 Sentences

French composer Claude Debussy worked on La Mer for two years. Debussy was well acquainted with the sea, as his father actually wanted to train him as a sailor. Over the course of the work’s three movements, various states of the sea are represented musically. The piece was not well received at its premiere. Today, however, it is considered a milestone of Impressionism and is also often used as a training work for instrumentation due to the sophisticated instrumental combinations.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Debussy's La Mer

Highlight 1: Moods of the Sea

The opening is an “exploration” of various moods, brightnesses, and reflections of the sea. Strings and flutes play a cyclical movement sometimes interpreted as “ebb” and “flow”:

Highlight 2: Play of the waves

The second movement – Play of the waves – is the most famous movement in the work. Here Debussy musically depicts the rocking of the waves, changes in the currents, the sunlight on the surface of the water, and the depth of the sea:

Highlight 3: Dangers of the sea

That the sea is not always peaceful becomes clear at the beginning of the third movement. The dangers of the sea are characterized here with dark timbres:

Highlight 4: Breaking waves

Finally, the waves break. The piece ends with the musical representation of a “tidal wave”:

3 Questions and Answers about Debussy's La Mer

Question 1: What are the names of the movements from Debussy's La Mer?

Debussy’s La Mer consists of the three movements “From dawn to noon on the sea”, “Play of the waves” and “Dialogue of the wind and the sea”.

Question 2: Which era does Debussy represent?

Debussy is considered a leading representative of Impressionism.

Question 3: What is impressionism in music?

In musical impressionism, the focus is not on the form of the music, but on its timbre. With the help of various timbres, subjective impressions, „emotional snapshots“, are to be represented.

2 Recommended Recordings of Debussy's La Mer

Recording 1: hr Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi (Live, 2012)

This recording with the hr-Sinfonieorchester and the Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi was made in the special atmosphere of the Eberbach monastery:

Recording 2: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink (Live)

Also recommended is this recording with one of the best orchestras in the world, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Bernard Haitink, one of the most important conductors of our time:

1 Quote about Debussy's La Mer

There are no personal emotions in Debussy's music. It affects you even more than nature. When you look at the sea, you will not have such strong sensations as when you listen to La Mer. [...] Debussy is perfection itself.

Leave a Reply