Debussy's 'La Mer' Marks 100th Birthday

A 1908 portrait of Debussy

hide captionA 1908 portrait of Debussy

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Hear 'La Mer'

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Purchase Featured Music

  • "La Mer, symphonic sketches (3) for orchestra, L. 109"
  • Album: Debussy: La Mer
  • Artist: Simon Rattle
  • Label: EMI
  • Released: 2005
 
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Purchase Featured Music

  • "La Mer, symphonic sketches (3) for orchestra, L. 109"
  • Album: Claude Debussy: Nocturnes/Premiere Rhapsodie/Jeux/La Mer
  • Artist: Pierre Boulez
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • Released: 1995
 

One hundred years ago Saturday, classical music witnessed a sea change — quite literally. On Oct. 15, 1905, French composer Claude Debussy's symphonic portrait of the sea, called "La Mer," premiered in Paris.

The way Debussy captured the ocean's color, light and mood — using the orchestra as his paintbrush — gave composers new ways to think about writing orchestral music.

With "La Mer," Debussy ignored the old rules about combining textures and sounds in symphony orchestra, and created a whole new world of sonic possibilities. To this day, notes Washington Post critic Tim Page, even conductors are divided on how to approach the piece.

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