Lasting Impressions

CD 19 of 24

Impressionism is a term that was borrowed from the art world to describe the new sounds that were emanating from France in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As applied to music, Impressionism has been described as “a style of composition designed to create descriptive impressions by evoking mood through rich and varied harmonies and timbres”.  The greatest practitioners of this new style were Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) and Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937).

As well as being impressionistic, Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea) of 1905, is a fine example of programme music, with both the title and the descriptive title of each of the three sections evoking an aquatic image as well.  Throughout his life Debussy was captivated by the sea, dreaming of becoming a sailor while visiting the Mediterranean coast as a youngster, and as an adult, spending many vacations by the  seaside.

Debussy did not consider his masterpiece a symphony and he was careful to call each section of the work a sketch, not a movement. He creates cohesiveness by introducing small episodes, each episode producing an impression of a constantly changing sea, and it is these impressions which provide the atmospheric aura.    

Preceding La Mer by ten years, Prelude à L’après d’un faune was inspired by a Stéphane Mallarmé poem.  Debussy had originally been asked to compose incidental music to a staged presentation of Mallarmé’s work. This project never saw the light of day; however, Debussy retained his musical ideas, eventually employing them in this work. The poem’s first line introduces a satyr dreaming of nymphs, wishing this moment would last an eternity. Debussy induces a dreamy image beautifully captured in the descending flute melody.  The very large orchestra employed by Debussy is used to add dabs of colour, not for any   overwhelming effect.

Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé was commissioned by Serge Diaghilev, the Russian impresario and leader of Les Ballet Russes. This troupe, featuring Vaslav Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova, was brought to Paris in 1909. Though Daphnis et Chloé failed as a ballet, the music was a success and Ravel wrote the two Suites derived from it shortly thereafter.

Bolero, or as most people say, Ravel’s Bolero (composer and title becoming as inseparable as Pachelbel and his Canon) is included here not as a great example of impressionism but simply because of its immense popularity. Written in 1928, its use in the movie 10 garnered it a whole new audience in the 1980s and it has been included on classical compilations too numerous to count (including this one!). It was, according to Ravel, its ``musico-sexual element” that made it a hit, the very element Torvill and Dean highlighted in their stunning skating performance at the 1984 Winter Olympics. After a century of popularity, is it any wonder that Ravel considered it “his masterpiece.”

He also added, “Too bad there isn’t any music in it``.

Ah, everyone’s a comic. 


Recommended Tracks 



Recommended Tracks

Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937):
Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No.2 | 1. Lever du jour
Barenboim · Orchestre de Paris
Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918):
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, L. 86
Barenboim · Orchestre de Paris
Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918):
La Mer, L.109 | 2. Play Of The Waves (Jeux de vagues)
Barenboim · Orchestre de Paris


(Please find our recommended audio excerpts for this CD on the bottom of the "Overview" page.)

      1. Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937)
      2. 1.
        Pavane pour une infante défunte, M.19
        Myron Bloom, Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim
      3. Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No.2
        1. 2.
          1. Lever du jour
          Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim
        2. 3.
          2. Pantomime
          Michel Debost, Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim
        3. 4.
          3. Danse générale
      4. Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)
      5. 5.
        Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, L. 86
      6. La Mer, L.109
        1. 6.
          1. From Dawn Till Noon On The Sea (De l'aube à midi sur la mer)
        2. 7.
          2. Play Of The Waves (Jeux de vagues)
        3. 8.
          3. Dialogue Of The Wind And The Sea (Dialogue du vent et de la mer)
      7. Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937)
      8. 9.
        Boléro, M. 81
        Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim
    Playing Time 01:16:49