The eighth number in Claude Debussy's first book of
piano Preludes, a volume the composer worked on between
about 1907 and 1910, is the celebrated "La fille aux
cheveux de lin" (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair), two
pages of delicate, superbly-crafted music that rival
the Clair de lune from the Suite bergamasque and the
Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun as the most widely
recognized entry in the composer's catalog.
One of Debussy's happiest decisions when composing his
Preludes is, sadly, one that has been all but undone by
publishers. Nowadays one finds the Preludes'
picturesque little descriptions (such as "girl with the
flaxen hair") at the top of each piece in bold,
assertive type. When Debussy put the pieces to paper,
however, he placed the descriptions at the end of each
piece, as hints, even questions -- these are not the
miniature, concrete-subjected tone poems we are
sometimes led to believe. Indeed, the title La fille
aux cheveux de lin is so famous that it can sometimes
distract from the fact that the piece is as perfectly
poised and flawlessly balanced a work of piano music as
one might hope for.
The unaccompanied melody at the opening glistens (it
is really just an arpeggio, so guilelessly drawn that
one marvels at the effect it has). The mild climax in
the middle of the piece is fine china -- radiant but
ever so brittle, always in danger of being irreparably
cracked or even smashed by an over-zealous pianist. The
uncertain parallel fourths of the final pianissimo
"murmuring" (called thus by Debussy) are turned on
their heads after four bars, rising up into the warm
sun of one last sonorous G flat major chord.
Although originally written for Solo Piano, I created
this arrangement for Flute & Harp.