Le Rocher Perce: A Symphonic Poem By Michael Diemer

At the village of Perce in Quebec, Canada, a natural monument to the power of the Sea has
awed travelers for centuries. Just offshore lies a massive rock nearly three-hundred feet high, which broke off from the shore millions of years ago. It is some of the oldest rock in the world. Over the centuries, the constant battering by the waves has cut an arch through the rock, large enough for boats to pass through. It has the power to hold the traveler in town for days. The following is a musical impression of a trip the composer made to the Gaspe Peninsula, home to this magnificent spectacle, and to a hardy sea-faring folk who have  braved the harsh climate for centuries to wrest a living from the sea.

It begins with the traveler beholding the Rock from a distance. Gradually we approach closer and closer until we see it in full splendor. Because the Rock lies so close to shore, it is possible to walk out to it at low tide, and thus experience it at close proximity. We walk across a narrow isthmus, strewn with pebbles of all sizes. Pizzicato strings signal this “promenade” theme. Then, we stand at its very base, our eyes traveling up the ancient facade, steadying ourselves to its sheer mass, while great seabirds wheel upward on the thermals, soaring above it in dizzying circles. The woodwinds suggest their cries, while the low strings rise in sweeping measures. A brief bridge follows on the brass, leading to the next section.
Next, a theme in the Dorian mode sounds on the French Horn. This is an impression of a
boat ride, allowing the viewer to experience Le Rocher Perce – the rock pierced by the sea
– from the point of view of the sea. This called to mind a Greek legend, something reminiscent of Jason and the Argonauts. This theme is repeated and elaborated, with a quote from Debussy’s LA MER. Suddenly the Timpani begins to roll, and the high strings form a wavelike pattern – the tide is returning, and those out at the Rock hurry back across the neck of pebbly sand, for it will soon be gone. As the tide quickens, a storm comes up. The wind howls, and the waves crash, assailing the Rock in an age-old battle of the elements.
Next follows a kind of Sea Chantey,  meant to represent the hardy seafaring inhabitants of this remote and seemingly timeless land.

The closing section is a representation of the view of the Rock as one ascends a great hill overlooking the scene – indeed, the hill was once joined to the now detached Rock, launched as if it were a great ship many eons ago. As we ascend higher and higher, the view changes, reflected in the music slowly gathering force until we are at the summit, looking down now at the behemoth hundreds of feet below,  stunning in its frozen defiance of the elements.

A side trip to Quebec City: We saunter down the narrow by-ways of this very French city, signified by another quote from LA MER. The street musicians, the artisans, the colorful and cosmopolitan atmosphere are a far cry from the hard grandeur of Le Rocher Perce. Yet, in our minds, we are drawn once more to its irresistible presence, as the return of the promenade theme suggests. Finally, we must reluctantly leave all this and return to our regular lives. As the ferryboat makes its way across the Bay Of Chaleur, we see this magical land recede into the mist. We have been to an enchanted isle, and long to return.

Dedicated to the people of the Gaspe, and to Claude Debussy.

Copyright 2000 by Michael Diemer

All music is original and copyrighted. All rights reserved.


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