Debussy’s Syrinx

This short impressionist piece has won the hearts of many flautists over the years. Maybe it is due to the lack of technical obstacles or the amount of space for interpretation. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that Syrinx uses the flute to paint a beautiful picture.

The piece reflects greek mythology and the wood Nymph Syrinx. The Greek God Pan, entranced by the hunting Nymph, chased her. In an effort to protect her chastity, Syrinx fled to the river. The Gods came to her rescue and she hid as part of a reed bed. In hot pursuit, Pan’s frustrated and longing sigh created a rich melody across the reeds. Echanted, he cut them to create a pan pipe called Syrinx, so he always carried the gentle Nymph with him.

Pan and the pipes

Debussy was clearly influenced by the sound of the pan pipes; the hollow round tone colour is able to really come out at the end of the piece. The melody is fluid. It demands a lot of expression, rubato and variety, but Debussy did write very specific rhythms.

Originally called ‘Flute de Pan’ Claude Debussy wrote the piece in 1913, as incidental music for Mourey’s ‘Psyche’. The first solo piece using the modern Boehm flute, Debussy proves that a lone flute can explore the colourful world of impressionism.

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