Debussy - La Mer

Claude Debussy's rich and evocative depiction of the underwater realm remains an impressionistic milestone, a classic of its type. But what makes La Mer so good?

debussy la mer

Ever-resistant to the confines of normal practice, impressionist composer Claude Debussy insisted that his La Mer was not a symphony. No, even though it contains three symphonic movements that could quite happily be classified as a symphony. Debussy preferred to call it a set of 'symphonic sketches' - something of a milestone in itself.

La Mer (literally 'The Sea') was a confusing prospect to audiences of 1905, as it was neither a normal symphony nor a complete departure. Parisian audiences initially didn't really warm to it either, perhaps partly because of the scandal of Debussy having left his wife for the singer Emma Barduc.

Debussy took inspiration not from the rolling waves of the Pacific or the Atlantic, but from the rather more unlikely locale of Eastbourne on the south coast of England. He finished composing the work's three movements there in 1905, saying that he found more inspiration in paintings of the sea than being near the sea itself.

Video: Valery Gergiev conducts La Mer

Debussy: La Mer recordings

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