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Practical guide – Syrinx by Claude Debussy

by | Aug 4, 2018 | Flute and Music, Ory's Tips | 4 comments

Ory’s Flute Tips

Practical guide – Syrinx by Claude Debussy


Syrinx is probably one of the most known pieces in our repertoire and therefore I wanted to dedicated this post to it, helping you find ways to improve your performances of it.

Listen first to my video and take a look on the score.


📜 Respect the score

Debussy writes throughout his whole repertoire very precisely, giving the player many exact instructions of how to execute his pieces. Therefore, I always encourage the students I work with to limit their freedom and respect the text. Yes, it is a solo piece and it shouldn’t feel metronomic, but at the same time taking too much freedom breaks the structure of the piece and doesn’t allow the listener to understand the beat or the relations between all the different rhythms.

Think for a moment about the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (see here my practical excerpt guide with my video of it). We all know that when you play this excerpt you do have certain freedom but you should respect the beats. I believe that also while playing Syrinx we should do the same. Try to respect the quarters beats and make your rubati inside the beat.

As for the tempo of the piece, I’m not sure if you’ve ever considered that, but in fact both the Prelude and Syrinx start with the exact same tempo markings – ‘Très modéré’. Maybe it’s not a bad idea then, to think about the tempo of the Prelude in order to get an idea about the tempo for Syrinx.


🤔 Consider your use of tone colors, dynamics and vibrato

There are few more considerations and decisions I believe you should make before playing the piece. Syrinx is a very powerful piece in terms on the effect over your audience and you have to create a certain atmosphere in order to achieve that. Your choices of vibrato, tone colors and dynamics are extremely important to creating that and should reflect and help you maintaining that atmosphere throughout the piece.

When I perform this piece I try to convey a rather intimate, delicate, fragile atmosphere – as I imagine the nymph Syrinx, being chased by the god Pan. During the piece there’s certain drama happening, especially around the 5th line of the second page of the score – that might reflect Syrinx crying out for help from the river nymphs. Otherwise, during the rest of the piece the music should stay rather on the calm, intimate side. If you scan quickly the score (find the score here), you’ll see no indications for any dynamic more than mezzo-forte, besides of the most dramatic spot marked with mezzo-forte and crescendo.

Personally, I would choose a tone color that has no pressure or power in it, rather something more gentle. The vibrato I would use should be as well very gently integrated into the sound and should not steal the attention. As the drama happening later in the piece you can definitely increase the intensity of the vibrato, but only till the drama has finished.

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🎬 On stage you are not only a musician – but an actor as well

When you are on stage in front of your audience you are not only playing for them – you are performing for them. That means that you should take care not only for the way you sound, but as well for the way you move (or not) on stage during playing. The way you move has an extremely important effect on creating or ruining the atmosphere you are trying to make while playing.

If the music you are playing is gentle and fragile, your movements can not be big and not linked with the music. That will only catch the attention of the listeners and interrupt them to dive into this world you are creating for them with your playing.

In moments when the music stands still (such as end of the first line and end of the third line in the score) – you should literally stand still as well. Don’t move and allow some silence, without any activity on stage. Only then keep playing the next phrase.
If you take a close look on the video at 0:12 and 0:44 you will see what I mean. At the end of the piece (2:47) it’s very relevant as well.

You can find more tips about this topic in my article “Connect your body movements to the music”.

I hope this article could give you few ideas of what to consider the next time you perform this piece. If you have questions, you are very welcome to leave a comment.

Enjoy experimenting,

Ory Schneor is a principal flutist with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, Tongyeong Festival Orchestra and member of the Geneva Camerata. He is teaching masterclasses around the world and he is the founder and instructor at FLUTEinWIEN

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