Showcase March-April 2014 - page 25

of this splendid sound, a solitary brass chord winds the
music into silence.
play of the waves.
Opening with shimmering swirls of
color, the second movement is brilliant, dancing and
surging throughout—it has a sense of fun and play, as
a scherzo should. One moment it can be sparkling and
light, the next it will surge up darkly. In the delicate
close, solo instruments seem to evaporate into the
shining mist.
dialogue of wind and sea.
The mood changes sharply at
the beginning of the final movement, which Debussy
specifies should sound “animated and tumultuous.” The
ominous growl of lower strings prefaces a restatement
of the trumpet tune from the very beginning, and soon
the horn chorale returns as well. Woodwinds sing
gently and wistfully before the music builds to a huge
explosion. Moments later their tune returns in a touch
of pure instrumental magic: against rippling harps
and the violins’ high harmonics, solo flute brings back
this melody with the greatest delicacy. The effect is
extraordinary—suddenly we feel a sense of enormous
space and calm. Yet within seconds this same shape
roars out with all the power of the full orchestra. Earlier
themes are recalled and whipped into the vortex as the
music hurtles to a tremendous climax, with dissonant
brass shrieking out the final chord.
Debussy may be popularly identified as the composer of
“impressionistic” moods, full of muted color and subtle
understatement. The conclusion of
La Mer
, however,
is anything but the music of water lilies: it is driven
by a force beyond human imagination. The normally
understated Debussy makes us feel that wild strength in
the most violent ending he ever wrote.
Instrumentation:
2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 3 bassoons,
contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones,
tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, bells, tam-tam, triangle,
2 harps and strings
E.B.
n the summer of 1903, the 41-year-old Debussy
took a cottage in the French wine country, where
he set to work on a new orchestral piece inspired
by his feelings about the sea. To André Messager he
wrote, “I expect you will say that the hills of Burgundy
aren’t washed by the sea and that what I’m doing is like
painting a landscape in a studio, but my memories are
endless and are in my opinion worth more than the real
thing, which tends to pull down one’s ideas too much.”
the sea as a concept
Had Richard Strauss written this work, he would have
made us hear the thump of waves along the shoreline,
the cries of wheeling sea-birds, the hiss of foam across
the sand. Debussy’s aims were far different: he wanted
this music to give us the feeling of being in the ocean’s
presence, to feel the
idea
, particularly his own idea,
of the ocean. Thus
La Mer
sets out not to make us see
whitecaps—but to awaken in us a sense of the sea’s
elemental power and beauty.
La Mer
consists of two moderately paced movements
surrounding a scherzo, created from seeming fragments
of musical materials. We discover hints of themes,
rhythmic shapes and flashes of color that reappear
throughout the work, like kaleidoscopic bits in an
evolving mosaic of color and rhythm.
from dawn to noon on the sea.
The works begins with a
murmur, quiet yet strong. Out of darkness, glints of
color and motion emerge, and solo trumpet and English
horn share a fragmentary tune that will also return in the
final movement. As the morning brightens, the music
becomes more animated, and a wealth of ideas follows:
swirling rhythms, a noble horn chorale, a dancing figure
for the cello section. At the movement’s close, the horn
chorale builds to an unexpectedly powerful climax. Out
Claude Debussy
Born:
August 22, 1862, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Died:
March 25, 1918, Paris
La Mer
i
mar 22, 23
Program Notes
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MARCH / APRIL 2014 MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA
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