< Debussy/Emily BeynonPrélude à l’après-midi d’un faune for Flute and Pi – Syrinx Music

Debussy/Emily BeynonPrélude à l’après-midi d’un faune for Flute and Piano

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 I wonder whether the 18 year old Georges Barrère realised, as he played that very first magical C# melting down seductively onto the tritone G on Saturday the 22nd of December 1894 in the Salle Harcourt in Paris, that he was making musical history? Debussy’s masterpiece is according to Pierre Boulez, “the awakening of modern music”. In Leonard Bernstein’s Norton lecture (1973), The Unanswered Question he corroborates this, stating that the piece, with its extensive use of the tritone interval and whole-tone scale, stretches the limits of tonality, thus setting up the atonal works of the 20th century to come. Debussy’s L’après midi d’un faune is based on the poem of the same name by Stephane Mallarmé and although he was initially none too pleased that Debussy saw fit to set his poem to music, Debussy invited him to the première and he wrote to Debussy afterwards: “I have just come out of the concert, deeply moved. The marvel! Your illustration of the Afternoon of a Faun, which presents a dissonance with my text only by going much further, really, into nostalgia and into light, with finesse, with sensuality, with richness. I press your hand admiringly, Debussy. Yours, Mallarmé. In 1912, the piece was made into a short ballet, choreographed and performed by Nijinsky with costumes and sets by the painter Léon Bakst. Debussy was said to have disapproved and the highly suggestive, erotic choreography proved to be highly controversial. However it too proved to be a turning point in the history of modern dance. The poem is not so much a story of Pan but rather an inner monologue which sways between dream and reality, memory and fantasy, disenchantment and intoxication. As Debussy himself wrote, “The music of this prelude is a very free illustration of Mallarmé's beautiful poem. By no means does it claim to be a synthesis of it. Rather there is a succession of scenes through which pass the desires and dreams of the faun in the heat of the afternoon. Then, tired of pursuing the timorous flight of nymphs and naiads, he succumbs to intoxicating sleep, in which he can finally realise his dreams of possession in universal Nature.” So, approaching this work as a flute player, we soon realise that we are in the realm of seductive tone, sensual vibrato and imaginative colouring. At times the tone could perhaps be warm and sultry, and at others transparent and delicate. Obviously with such a prominent flute part, an arrangement for flute and piano is not only a welcome addition to the concert programme of any recitalist but also an extremely useful way to gain a better understanding of the entire orchestral work and the flute’s role therein. With this in mind, I have kept the flute part as close as possible to the original orchestral part with additional melodic wind parts added when necessary and possible. I have also indicated to which wind instrument these extra lines belong in the original score which might hopefully inspire subtle changes of colour and vibrato. The main source that I used for this edition is the original manuscript in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. As a secondary source and in particular as an inspiration for the piano writing, I have used Ravel’s quatre-mains version from 1910. My aim here is not to provide a scholarly list of why and how I have made my various editorial choices. These sometimes subtle, sometimes radical departures from the orchestral part will certainly change my interpretation the next time I am fortunate enough to perform this masterpiece and pinnacle of the flute repertoire! I am indebted to João Vidinha Duarte for his patience, suggestions and perfectionism and Andrew West for his help with the piano part. Emily Beynon - Principal Flute, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

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