“La Mer” L.109, (The Sea), is an orchestral composition by Claude Debussy. It was started in 1903 in France and completed in 1905 on the English Channel coast in Eastbourne. The premiere was given by the Lamoureux Orchestra under the direction of Camille Chevillard on 15 October 1905 in Paris. “La Mer” is a composition of huge suggestion and subtlety in its rich depiction of the ocean, which combines unusual orchestration with daring impressionistic harmonies. The work has proven very influential, and its use of sensuous tonal colours and its orchestration methods have influenced many later film scores. While the structure of the work places it outside of both absolute music and programme music as those terms were understood in the early 20th century, it obviously uses descriptive devices to suggest wind, waves and the ambience of the sea. But structuring a piece around a nature subject without any literary or human element to it – neither people, nor mythology, nor ships are suggested in the piece – also was highly unusual at the time.
Debussy called his work “three symphonic sketches,” avoiding the loaded term symphony; yet the work is sometimes called a symphony; it consists of two powerful outer movements framing a lighter, faster piece which acts as a type of scherzo.
“La Mer” is divided inot three movements:
1. “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” (from dawn to midday on the sea);
2. “Jeux de vagues” (Play of the Waves);
3. “Dialogue du vent et de la mer” (Dialogue of the wind and the sea).