EMMANUEL PAHUD Claude Debussy, "Syrinx" for solo flute04:04

EMMANUEL PAHUD Claude Debussy, "Syrinx" for solo flute


Modernism is a direct reaction to Romantic ideals around the turn of the 20th century where the quest for innovation becomes central (Robbins 2011). Several modernist composers react against and, in some cases, even reject tonality, traditional form, meter, traditional melody, etc (Bonds 2013). Throughout Debussy's lifetime, he believed very deeply in symbolism, the notion that art should capture absolute truths only through indirect methods, seeking to evoke rather than to describe (Robbins 2011). Debussy's concern with evocation is mirrored in visual artists concerned with color more than form, including Claude Monet.


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Syrinx fits into the early modern period in many ways. It questions the traditional sense of tonality in that it is written completely in accidentals. Melodic themes are still prevalent throughout, as well as a basic form of ABA'. These two things show that this music is not a complete departure from earlier musical examples. The piece is intended to be played with a great deal of rubato, adding to the modern element that rejects the more traditional notion of tempo. The piece, in certain ways, is clearly meant as a programmatic evocation of a particular mood or feeling. Dynamic contrasts play a greater role than they did in the past, with constant subtleties abounding everywhere. Debussy becomes very specific in his text asking for specific characteristics in the music. This specification in the printed music becomes more and more common entering into modern music.


In comparison to Debussy's "Prelude on an Afternoon of a Faun," also featuring the flute in the opening solo, many similarities abound. Whole tone and pentatonic scales are used throughout. Debussy shows an interest in timbre and color by ambiguity of tonal centers and musical direction. Dynamic subtelties are prevalent throughout each. In a way, Debussy uses washes of sound to create texture and timbre in both works.


I really enjoyed studying and writing about Syrinx. Flute is my secondary instrument, and I have gotten to study this work with several flute teachers, all with a different approach. The many ways this piece can be approached is why I find it so interesting and why I chose to write about it. Because of the range of possible interpretations, this work is said to be the first major flute solo that set the precedent for other modern, 20th century flute repertoire to come. In this way, this piece is very important and a staple to all flute players.

Works CitedEdit

"EMMANUEL PAHUD Claude Debussy, "Syrinx" for solo flute." YouTube video, 4:03. Posted by "Absolutely Pahud," upload December 26, 2013.

Mark Evans Bonds. A History of Music in Western Culture. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice-Hall, 2013.

Jobert (Editor). Syrinx. Creative Commons Attribution.,_Claude)

Allison Robbins. (2011, March) Romantic Period. Musicology 220. Lecture conducted from University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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