The Sunken Cathedral/La Cathédrale engloutie

(Feb 12, 2019)

A very interesting story…

For details of the story, skim the Wiki link below:

The Sunken Cathedral

There are many other versions of this story or legend that you can find with Google. But the important part is that a cathedral rises out of the ocean, then sinks back again into the ocean. There is a choir, and bells, and an organ. This leaves a lot to the imagination when there is only piano.

Here is the same music orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski, famous for being the conductor of Disney’s Fantasia:

The version by Stokowski…

Some will prefer the purity of piano only, while others will prefer the bigger, lusher sound of full orchestra.

I like both. And there is yet another important version, this time for synthesizer. This was released in 1974, but it was decades ahead of its time:

A totally original concept…

As is true of so much famous music, this could be a film score written this year, or music for a computer game.

Debussy is one of the two most famous Impressionistic composers. But Impressionism, which is shown to be from around 1890-1925, never stopped being used as an expressive musical style and is being used right now. What makes the late part of the 20th century moving into the 21st century so interesting is that every style every used in composition, going back many centuries, is still being used. What is the musical style of today? What is a good name for our musical period, the one we live in?

Well, you won’t find this in a book, but I propose this name:

The Anything Is Possible Period



16 thoughts on “The Sunken Cathedral/La Cathédrale engloutie

        1. Yes, Toni, the word “engulf” is another sort of old-fashioned word for something that is underwater. Look how close “engloutie” and “engulfed” are. French and English are often very close.

  1. I happened to hear traditional gamelan music recently and I was hearing some of that in this piece. It was intriguing to hear both the imagery of a sunken cathedral, and the influence of a new instrument sparking Debussy’s imagination. I enjoyed all three versions, each in its own way. Personally I think I leaned toward the simplicity of the first.

    1. Since taking something written only piano and enlarging for full orchestra has also been done by Debussy, I’m sure he would not have objected to what Stokowski did. As a pianist I’m very glad that Debussy wrote this only for piano, but if I had only heard it in these forms, I think I would have liked best the version for complete orchestra. The Tomito version has always fascinated me.

  2. One more thought – I think the 20th Century (and late 19th) also qualifies as the “Anything Goes” period. So the last 100 years or so have been full of experiments, from all sides. Some on the playback side (Walter / Wendy Carlos, I’m a fan), Tomita, in writing (Gershwin, and the bulk of the talented movie composers) and the list goes on and on.. like Black Sabbath.. Planet Caravan has ozzy singing through a Leslie rotating organ speaker.

    1. The difference was that back then, in the late 1800s, there was no jazz, no rock, and no strong dissonance. No Rite of Spring yet. No movie music, no musicals. Back then you had the guys like Debussy and Ravel, the Impressionists, but “popular” music was confined to thing like “cakwalks” and “ragtime”. Today you hear all those styles used in movie music to set a mood, so modern listeners hear everything without knowing when anything started. This makes today extremely interesting, but highly confusing.

  3. Heh Gary…. the Tomita recording is in Dolby Stereo… which means it was recorded for Quad (Dolby Stereo is quad turned around a bit, you have discrete Left, Center, Right and one mono Surround. Quad was Left Front, Right Front, Left Rear, Right rear.

    Any modern receiver can decode Quad into Dolby.

    What I”m sayin’ is, this Tomita is a total trip! Musically and sonically.

    The Stokowski is pure Stokowski, it’s almost miraculous.

    I like all 3 versions, and which one I play would change depending on my …. mood.

    1. That’s too techie for my little brain, Louie, but I can tell you that “way back then” I got to hear this recording on a friend’s quad set-up, and it really was “trippy”. Quad was a wonderful idea, and this guys’s set up was with four speakers on four different sides of a large square room. It was like surround sound WAY before you heard that in theatres. Like you I like all the versions!

  4. These pieces were beautiful! I remember hearing about the name “The Sunken Cathedral”. The ocean vibe made me think of movies and books about the life under sea. My personal favorite piece was the second song, like someone said it was more ‘mellow’ then the first.

    1. That was Michael who liked the second. I think most people prefer the richer sound of a complete orchestra because of the contrasts. It would have been interesting to get Debussy’s opinion. He was an amazing orchestrator himself, although Ravel, who lived only a bit later and who was also French, was the master.

  5. The first jumped at you with all that sound and power? The second had a lighter feel, with an orchestra and all. The last one had a more futuristic feel to it, which was a result of using the synthesizer. I personally like the second better, it doesn’t jump out at you and also doesn’t really feel all that different from the original.

    1. Michael, that’s a very unusual way of looking at it. First of all, it’s so good that you took the time to listen. Note that at the time I’m writing, only one other person checked here.

      I think we have to be very grateful that Debussy wrote this and other Preludes for piano, because without such pieces you and I would not be able to play them.

      I hope you read more about Stokowski. He is was famous for being the conductor of Fantasia, the famous animation from many decades ago, but he was a superb conductor and an amazingly creative person who was the first to do many things. So his transcriptions are amazing, and I think Debussy would have liked this. Debussy did the same thing with the music of other people.

      It’s amazing that Tomito sounds futuristic in 2019 considering the fact that he recorded these synthesizer transcriptions several decades ago. I was only about 24 years old when this album appeared.

      This is long, but you might want to skim it:

  6. Lovely music. The first 2 were my favorites. I listened to all 3 versions and compared them to making a cake. First, a plain layer. Next the filling. The orchestra added more “flavor”. Finally the icing and decorations, all the bells and whistles.

    1. The musical settings by Tomito were very new and very unusual at the time they were written. The music is probably still quite unusual for most people right now. Tomito took many liberties with the music. Some people, purists, object. I find it all fascinating.

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