Debussy - Images for Orchestra: No 2. Ibéria

By Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: piccolo, 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, snare drum, tambourine, xylophone, castanets, chimes, 2 harps, celesta, strings.

Duration: 20 minutes in three movements.


THE COMPOSER – CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1862-1918) – By the time La mer was finished in 1905, Debussy had reached such a high level of notoriety that other French musicians were routinely measured against him. Whether the comparison was favorable or pejorative depended on the issuer and Debussy’s domestic dramas provided ongoing fuel for the detractor camp. Debussy continued to advance his vision regardless, making his conducting debut in 1908 and joining the Conservatoire advisory board in 1909.

THE MUSIC – The three movements of Ibéria comprise the second part of Debussy’s late orchestral triptych Images. It was not the first time Debussy used the evocative “Imagery” title in his music. Two sets of piano pieces (Images, Book 1 and Book 2) share the name and there is indication in Debussy’s letters that the 3rd set was originally meant to consist of piano works as well. Soon after he began the composition process on in 1905, it apparently became clear to Debussy that the third “book” required a broader array of color options and decided to render those particular images pour orchestre. It would be 1912 before the entire project was complete but the central section (Ibéria) was finished in 1908 and premiered separately in 1910. It is one of music history’s more interesting novelties that fin-de-siècle French composers were so deft at capturing the essence of Spain in their music, some of them perhaps as well as Spain’s own native classical musicians. Ravel, for his part, was lucky enough to hear his Basque mother singing at home but he also possessed an innate ability to accurately imagine the cultural sounds of a place like Spain, even if he had spent relatively little time there. The same held true for Debussy. He had a proven ability to craft popular-sounding melodic material and support it with the most incredible formal and instrumental innovation. Ibéria benefits greatly from this gift.

THE WORLD – 1910 marked the beginning of the reign of King George V in the United Kingdom but the end of the Korean monarchy. Also that year, the Union of South Africa was formed E. M. Forster published Howards End.

THE CONNECTIONIbéria has been performed five times over the years on the Utah Symphony Masterworks series. The most recent concerts were in 1998 under Joseph Silverstein.