DEBUSSY’S LA MER AND OTHER PAENS TO THE SEA


Sea Fever by John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

I recently attended a Philadelphia Orchestra concert which included the playing of Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea).  This performance was not part of my season program but I could not possibly pass it up.  It was wonderful!   While you’re reading this and looking at the images you can hear the third movement (the dialog of the wind and the sea) by turning up your volume and clicking on the arrow here.

Observers at the time referred to all of his work as impressionistic, a parallel to the French school of impressionistic art by such as Monet, Renoir, Pissaro and Cezanne.  Debussy is said to have rejected the idea but eventually accepted it.  I think it is bang-on, particularly in contrast to the structured work of the classical and baroque periods.

It is the impressionistic style that appeals to me but it is also the images evoked of the sea, something with which I have had a long love affair.  (My Nordic genes?)    As I mentioned in a previous post, my late friend, psycho-analyst LeRoy Byerly, once observed that the sea reminded us of the sloshing waters of the womb.    Well, it could be but my own affinity for the waters dates from childhood on the beaches and along the Intra Coastal Waterway, in a boathouse on pilings with my rowboat underneath it.  Also, having to watch all of the episodes of Victory at Sea many times over in OCS probably had some effect as well.

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In any event I have a bountiful stream of memories involving the seas and other waterways.  As a child, diving under the waters, pretending to be the comic book character, Submariner; walking the beaches in winter after school;  scampering dangerously from rock to rock on the jettys; putt-putting through the marshes after a night of fishing, with only a war surplus one-cell life jacket light as a running light.

As an adult it was watching the chairs slide across the deck in the wardroom while crossing a March, storm-tossed North Atlantic, and watching the long deck of the LST ripple with each wave through which we pounded.  It was  barely surviving a windy day’s broach and near capsizing of a Captain’s gig while rounding the tip of Conanicut Island where the Narrangansett opened to Long Island Sound’s four foot chop.  It was standing on the bridge in deep night during a quieter Atlantic crossing and seeing another ship ghosting by in the distance, sharing the greatness and the depths and the loneliness of stars and sea.  It was standing on a Pacific shore as the sun sank into the mysterious Far East, with Richard Rodgers’ Theme of the Fast Carriers spinning in my head, thinking about that war and my brother storming murderous beaches, and the great dramas and losses and sadness of that profound and forever-gone era.

It is my brother, Bill’s, poem defining experiences I have also felt.

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It was being anchored in a bight along the Rideau Waterway in Canada, surrounded by conifers on rocky hillsides, seated with my family on the roof of our rented houseboat as night and a Canadian chill fell upon us, and hearing the plaintive call of a loon.  It was being placidly anchored in some secluded gunk-hole of the Chesapeake Bay as twlight descended, amidst others at anchor; secure, sharing private peace from the hazards of life, the bay and the night… islands of humanity.   And, it has been struggling through six foot seas while the cat puked on the aft deck and Marty Lou wondered out loud why she had ever left the mountains.  It has been walking the docks of marinas after safely tying up at day’s end, hearing the sounds and smelling the smells of boats at rest.  It has been gazing over the froth-filled near-shore reefs at the distant mountains of St. Bart’s as the sun rose on our beloved Dawn Beach.  It has been gliding on a canal boat through a dark mountain tunnel in lantern light with the sounds of a requiem mass being played.  Whose?  Too many years ago; I don’t remember.

It has been out on the sailing grounds,sun and spray in my face, watching the races and hearing the shhhhh of the hulls slicing through the water, the clicking of the cranked winches, and the occasional flapping of luffing sails.  It has been standing on the beach during a Nor’easter, physically understanding the overwhelming forces of the pounding waves and my own insignificance.  And it has been watching the moon’s reflection on the brief sheen left by a receeding wave.

Yes, I must go down to the seas again…….

A GREAT NIGHT AT THE KIMMEL CENTER

Last night’s program was near perfection for me: ravelpic

Ravel’s Piano Concerto For The Left Hand,

his La Valse, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances

(which I hadn’t heard before but enjoyed as I do most of his work)

and Liszt’s Totentanz.

For those of you who can spare the four minutes for a lift here’s a video of  the concluding section of the Piano Concerto. 

It was written in 1930 as a commission from pianist Paul Wittgenstein who had lost his right arm in World War I.

Another well-known favorite by Ravel is his Pavane For A Dead Princess, which can be heard here:

I was struck by this video because the 1889 painting _MG_0704 300of White Face Mountain is the same vista seen in some of my Lake Placid images.  (There.  I’ve gotten a picture of mine into my photo journal!)  More Lake Placid scenes here.

An overwhelming feeling I had during the concert is that there is still such beauty and magnificence in a world in which we are too often confronted with brutality and evil.  There is hope.