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by Claude Debussy 1862-1918


Debussy wrote Syrinx in 1913 it was the first solo flute composition for the Boehm flute. He was well set up to create a beautiful solo piece. Syrinx explored the new tone colours that could be created and became a showcase for the expressive capabilities of the modern silver flute.

Syrinx is the best example of storytelling in the flute repertoire. It was written as part of incidental music to the play Psyché by Gabriel Mourey and was originally called “Flûte de Pan”. It revolves around the God Pan and his love for the river nymph Syrinx. His feelings and ardent pursuit of Syrinx was not reciprocated by her. She fled and turned herself into a reed by a river. It is said Pan pulled the reed from the river, fashioned it into a flute and proceeded to play this wonderful melody as an expression of his love and grief over losing Syrinx.

Looking at the piece and deciding on the story the player wishes to tell is crucial to the successful performance of this piece. There are two main avenues of approach. Firstly, from Pans perspective all the way through as an expression from him of lament. Secondly, which is the one I take from both Pans and Syrinx’s perspective. The piece is a loose ABA form, so I treat A as Pans grief and B where the theme is down the octave and embellished at a tempo with more movement as a descriptive image of Syrinx and her efforts to avoid Pan. There are brushstrokes of colour and semiquaver and demi semi quaver movement that lend themselves to this in my view. The recap of the theme to me really is a joint lament of Pan and Syrinx with the climatic acciaccatura motif, which then winds down to almost nothing on the final Dflat. The hardest aspect of this piece is to play it rhythmically but make it sound improvised.
It is interesting to note the B flat minor key signature in Syrinx, yet it is built around the tonal centre of B flat and tri chord Bflat, Eflat and Dflat. I think the key signature is to give indications of colour and lament to the player.