Claude Debussy (22.08.1862 – 25.03.1918) was a 20th-century French composer and one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though Debussy disliked the term when applied to his compositions.
Even though La Mer contains three symphonic movements that could quite happily be classified as a symphony, Debussy was adamant that it was not to be called one! Debussy always referred to the work as a set of ‘symphonic sketches’. La Mer was started in 1903 in France and completed in 1905 at the Grand Hotel Eastbourne on the English Channel coast. Thus it is more likely inspired by the English Channel rather than the rolling waves of the Pacific or the Atlantic, though the composer always claimed that paintings of the sea gave him more inspiration. The three movements are; From dawn to noon on the sea, Play of the Waves and Dialogue between wind and waves.
The work is a masterpiece of suggestion and subtlety in its rich depiction of the ocean. Debussy combines unusual orchestration with daring impressionistic harmonies to create a classic of its type¹.
We have chosen a fine 1995 Deutsche Grammophon recording by the Cleveland Orchestra under the baton of Pierre Boulez.
¹ Though it should be noted that Parisian audiences initially didn’t really warm to it.