Oh, I love it! (Debussy and Bach are my two top favourite composers)
Very textural-- its funny because Debussy is difficult for newcomers to listen to, but not in the same way that listening to Schoenberg is-- its the subtlety that escapes a lot of listeners (hence the lame accusations of Debussy "lacking melody"). I confess that La Mer took me longer to deeply appreciate than many of his other orchestral works (I'm still not as familiar with Jeux as I would like to be also).
Historically, when this work was premiered, La Mer was not as well received by audiences & critics as Pelleas et Melisande, The Afternoon of a Faun, or the Nocturnes. Critics tried to pin Debussy down as an "impressionist" and there was really no such thing (at least as far as Debussy was concerned). Critics really blasted him on lack of form (meaning sticking to traditional Germanic based sonata allegro form, etc.), but I think what Debussy was trying to convey was the very formlessness of the ocean itself, so melodies drift in and out and morph into new ones.
Boulez's 1995 DG recording is the best one of La Mer out there IMO-- he doesn't go overboard with the lush harmonies, he pulls back just a little bit (I dislike it when Debussy is made too "schmaltzy").
The Afternoon of the Faun is my Debussy piece (though I prefer Tilson Thomas' recording for that-- it clocks in at just over 11 minutes!). I have most of Debussy's major works on CD (Pelleas, orchestral, piano, some other vocal pieces, chamber works).
La Mer is one of the pieces that first got me interested in orchestral music, and 30-odd years on I still think it's a bit special. It's true, though: Debussy's music seems to sound a little cheesy when it's done wrongly. It amazes me that any orchestra can do justice to such a strange composition.
That said, you'll often find his Nocturnes on the same disc, and I like them even more.
This Gilson chap looks interesting - thanks, Kurkikohtaus.
Kurkikohtous, no I've never heard of Paul Gilson... I just googled him and Naxos has a recording of it. I'll have to check that out.
Debussy's Nocturnes were my first exposure to his orchestra music. It was love at first hearing.
Yes, Debussy can be very easily schmaltzified or worse by a performer or an ensemble very easily. Last year I completed my Debussy collection after spending a ton of money with a bit of trial and error, and my chief complaint is overly lush, romantic "schmaltzy" interpretations-- like cheesy soundtrack music. And so a lot of people get a very wrong image of what Debussy's music is really like... But when he's done right-- oh wow!!!!
fool on the hill, before you go out and spend your hard earned cash on a Gilson CD, I must warn that I can't really recommend his La Mer "Jr." as a piece in-and-of-itself that will keep you coming back for repeated listenings.
I find it interesting only in terms of the comparison to Debussy's La Mer. On its own, it's more like a little pond trying to be an ocean.
" La Mer "a hedonist indeed, this was his finest orchesteral achivement for me, more vigorous than L'Apres-midi he portrays an exquisite harmonic sense.The intensity he creates with his polyphonic textures are incredibly original,& to think it all came about during his "escape" to Eastbourne!
What do people think of the karajan performance of la mer. it is the only one i have, and given that you guys say that performances of la mer are inconsistent, i'm curious to know how it stacks up in your opinion.
for the record, i think it's brilliant, but as i ahve none to compare it to....
Performance will always be a "problem" with this and related works - Jeux, Iberia... because Debussy's scoring, dynamics, articulations and tempi are delicate. He'll touch in a note on some instrument to get just the effect he wants. Changing the (orchestral) balance or tempi are therefore easy for an interpreter but may be ineffective, even offensive to some ears!
I'm happy with Previn's La Mer and Iberia [EMI]; Abbado with Nocturnes [DG]. But it's really down to preference. I haven't heard Karajan's rendering of La Mer. Maybe they have it in the library.
I actually heard the RCO play this piece in San Francisco earlier tonight. Previously, I had been unmoved and unimpressed by what seemed to me to be an overly romanticized tone poem. After hearing the best performance of this piece I have ever heard tonight, I have changed my opinion. There are still many pieces that rank higher on my list than La Mer but now I understand what all the fuss is about. The lush orchestration and moving string passages are very powerful if you allow them to move you. And that was the key for me to get over my distaste for La Mer. Hearing it live forced me to engage in a way that is possible to ignore when listening to a CD or MP3. Hearing the waves brought to life musically and seeing them brought to life visually (in the bowing) is really wonderful when you're immersed in it.
I'm going to try to give recorded versions another shot.
Perhaps you could quote examples of the clichés. Debussy seemed to avoid those established by people like de Joncières and Gilson prior to his rendering. Its effectiveness also depends on fine details of performance, very easy to mess up by letting the balance go awry; a few conductors take liberties trying to "bring out" detail meant to be left where it was, then missing other points of finesse.
The Concertgebouw also played La Mer in LA on 1-29-08 and I thought they were terrific and made the music come alive. On the other hand the next night they played Mahler 5th and I thought that Mariss Jansons's tempos were too slow for my tastes and when I heard the Chicago Symphony play it in 1970, I thought no one could play it any better.
Wasn't there some part of this piece (a fanfare-like section in the last movement) which Debussy removed after the first performance because someone commented that it sounded like Puccini, which Debussy hated? I would've liked to see what it sounded like in it's orginal "true" form.
I like how Debussy kinda carves his own path in music theory in this piece, sort of just making his own modalities and freely using all different kinds of seventh chords (especially dominant and minor sevenths).
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