Debussy: La Mer
The musical sounds of the sea: crashing waves, the expanded horizon, and feeling of calm make it a wonderful focus and inspiration for composers. Duo Zubovas (Sonata Zuboviene and Rokas Zubovas) has created a wonderful program that compares and contrasts two composers‘ interpretations of the sea, showcasing the insight and imagination of French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and Lithuanian composer Mikalojus Konstatinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911).
Duo Zubovas has a wonderful collaborative relationship with each other and are able to share their ideas to find a wonderful balance in their interpretation of these works. They approach the music with a unified artistic concept and an ability to highlight each of their musical strengths, both in technique as well as interpretation.
Claude Debussy’s “La Mer: trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestra, L 109” was composed between 1903-1905 and was premiered in Paris in October 1905. It is an excellent example of the impressionistic style of music with the lush chords, unusual scales, extensive pedaling to blur together some of the sounds and use of musical motives to represent visual ideas and create emotional moods. Ironically, Debussy rejected the label of being an impressionist composer, believing that the visual art genre label could not be applied to music. Debussy was influenced by the paintings of sea scenes by British painter William Turner (1775-1851), which were shown in Paris in 1894.
The piano 4-hand symphonic work arrangements were originally created to allow large-scale works to be enjoyed live in people’s homes and to have live performances with a limited budget. These were especially popular before the development of recording equipment as it allowed audiences to discover these works more easily than attending a concert.
Duo Zubovas has the tremendous ability to draw out the vast array of colors that you would hear in a full symphonic performance of these pieces with only the piano as the instrument. Along with outstanding virtuosic technique, their artistry and combined interpretation brought the images of the crashing waves, dark waters and calm reflections to life.
Pairing Debussy’s “La Mer” with Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiulionis‘ „Jura“ was a wonderful way to introduce American audiences to this lesser-known work by comparing it to a composition of one of his contemporaries. Both a visual artist and a composer, Čiurlionis was considered more of a symbolist rather than an impressionist, but both he and Debussy shared a general style of the late Romantic period. It was probably not possible for Čiurlionis to have heard or been inspired by Debussy, but the collective respect and awe of the sea is a connecting factor for these two composers.
Jūra (The Sea), a symphonic poem for orchestra was composed between 1903-1907 and published posthumously. Inspired by his visit to the Black Sea, Čiurlionis was taken with the vastness of the sea and it is believed that this was the inspiration for his composition Jūra. The symphony was not premiered until 1990, on the 115th anniversary of the composer‘s death.
„Jūra“ is where Duo Zubovas truly shines. Both of them have intimate knowledge of each note and phrase of this work and have worked together to showcase both the intent of the composer in addition to their individual and collective musical interpretations. It was an absolutely stunning performance that stretched the performance piano to its limits in the best ways! Duo Zubovas can create beautiful scenes in our minds that allows us to travel and explore places and emotions while still sitting still.