By Kathryn Blocki and Laurel Ewell
The first six (oversized) pages of this edition systematically teach students how to play Syrinx with rhythmic integrity. In many instances the teacher and student will play through the composition as a rhythmic duet to reinforce the divisions and subdivisions of the beat. Pages 7-8 contain just the solo, with the breath marks from the 1913 Brussel's manuscript clearly marked and all other breaths in parentheses. Because it is on oversized paper the fast moving notes are much simpler to read than previous editions. Playing and teaching Syrinx has never been so easy!
Additionally, an article by Laurel Ewell explains the text of the melodrama for which Syrinx was written. Each phrase of Syrinx was written to describe or portray the corresponding text. This knowledge is invaluable in understanding how Debussy intended the piece to be played.
This edition is licensed through the Theodore Presser Co, with permission by Jobert.Syrinx 101
Syrinx 101 By Walfrid Kujala
While taking note of the one-hundred-first anniversary of
the premiere of Claude Debussy’s Syrinx,
I would like to take this opportunity to recommend a publication that ought to be
in every flutist’s relearn-it-now library:
for solo flute by Claude Debussy, Rhythmic Teaching Edition by Kathy Blocki
and Laurel Ewell (www.BlockiFlute.com).
If you saw my Oct. 2013 article, Syrinx
Gone Wild, you may have been surprised at the multitude of rhythmic blunders
I noted as a result of my YouTube survey of over sixty Syrinx performances (at least half of them by professional players). Many of those errors were illustrated in my
composite notation, five bars of which are shown below. (My composite “error” version of the whole
piece can be found in the Flute Talk
Online of Oct. 2013).
Blocki’s teaching edition of Syrinx cleverly subdivides each beat of the music into two, three
or four related background rhythms on separate lines in score form, and with
the original notation always printed on the bottom line for reference. In the very first beat, for example, the top
line has three B flat sixteenths followed by one A natural sixteenth, and the
line below combines the three B flats into a dotted eighth followed by an A
natural sixteenth. Close attention to
the placement of that A natural will help you gain expressive sounding,
unrushed thirty-second notes. Playing a
continuous all-thirty-second note version of the first two beats is also
helpful. (By far, the most common error in Syrinx
performances is the consistent rushing of the two thirty-second notes as if
they were grace notes. They are an
integral part of the thematic structure, not mere ornaments.) Then later in the fourth bar, differentiating
properly between the thirty-seconds of the first beat and the triplet
sixteenths of the second and third beats is neatly accomplished after careful practicing
of each of the upper three lines.
The most interesting rhythm is in the penultimate bar with
its descending five-note whole-tone scale spread evenly over two beats. By mentally dividing the first beat
quarter-note into five equal sixteenths, as Blocki specifies, you can get a
very accurate feeling for the values of the descending eighth notes and still
be able to control Debussy’s tres retenu
marking. But don’t spoil the continuity
of this final phrase by taking a disconcerting breath at the bar-line like too
many flutists do.
I have myself practiced the entire Blocki rhythmic teaching
edition several times, ending up even more confident about my rhythm and phrasing--a
very satisfying feeling. No matter how certain
you may be about your rhythm, playing
the Blocki version will give you a very nice check-up opportunity--and perhaps
trigger a few wake-up calls along the way.
The six separate pages of the Rhythmic Teaching Edition are attractively engraved on durable,
heavy-stock, legal size paper, printed on one side only, and can be spread out
over two music stands. The original
performance version of Syrinx is
printed separately on two pages, and there are three other pages, one
containing guidance and hints from Blocki about how to practice the rhythmic
teaching edition, and two pages of excellent program notes by Laura A. Ewell:
“The Relationship Between Music and Poetry in Syrinx (La Flûte de Pan)”. Ewell’s
essay gives valuable historical and poetical insights, and is well-worth
It would be nice if Blocki were to design a similar rhythmic
teaching edition for the often disfigured Varèse Density 21.5. I did something
along those lines for my students a few years ago by designing a CD audio
click-track that outlined the alternating duple and triple rhythms plus the
changes of tempo, on top of which I also added some vocals in the form of
announcing some of the critical bar numbers in case a player got lost. All the students seemed to benefit from the
experience, and were able to perform the piece with much better rhythmic
precision after being weaned off the click-track.
An extremely fascinating and authentic source of Debussy’s
own thoughts and attitudes concerning performances of his own compositions is conveniently
accessible. Just google the following: “A
piano method by Claude Debussy”.
Karstein Djupdal, a Norwegian pianist and composer, is the author of
this compilation of illuminating quotes.
In his introduction Djupdal writes:
“For the pianists who want a better understanding of the performance of
Debussy’s piano music, it is interesting to get to know the ideas that Debussy
himself had. I have attempted to
construct the piano method that Debussy could have written. That is, the ideas I present here are not my ideas about playing Debussy, but
should as far as possible be Debussy’s own ideas. Fortunately, we have a lot of sources which,
taken together, can give us a good indication of how Debussy wanted his music
Djupdal’s sources are well-known pianists who studied with
Debussy at one time or another—Ricardo Vines, Marguerite Long, E. Robert
Schmitz, Maurice Dumesnil, George Copeland and Louis Laloy. Their observations are neatly categorized, as
shown by the following chapter headings:
accuracy of interpretation, artistic license of the performer, musical
imagination and atmosphere, musical expression, rhythm and rubato, dynamics,
the visual performance in a concert.
(Other chapters are devoted to more specific areas of piano technique
such as touch and pedaling.)
Meanwhile, on a return visit to my YouTube” laboratory”
recently, I discovered a very exciting addition to the short list of exemplary Syrinx performances, this one by French
flutist Mathilde Calderini. She plays
with a beautiful, luminous tone, tasteful expression, and very good rhythm
(except for a 7/8 conversion of bars 17-18).
The 25-year old Calderini won 1st Prize at the 8th
Kobe International Competition in 2013.
Her YouTube recital also includes a stunning performance of the Faure Fantasie.
And finally, in case you might be surfing the internet for Syrinx references, you’ll likely find,
among many other things, these four surprising definitions of syrinx:
a syringe; a set of panpipes; the lower larynx or voice organ in birds;
a pathological tube-shaped cavity in the brain or spinal cord.
Graecum est, non
legibur (“It’s all Greek to me.”)