The girl with the flaxen hair

(Apr 2019)

One of many Preludes by Debussy.

I wonder who will prefer the piano, and who will prefer the music with full orchestra? If you only like it on the piano, you are a purist.

This is the famous pianist, Michelangeli playing Debussy’s  “La fille aux cheveux de lin”, which literally means “the girl with hair of flax”. Most likely “blond” is the closest thing we have today for hair color.

The same music, orchestrated…

I don’t know who did the orchestration, but I like this.

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9 thoughts on “The girl with the flaxen hair

  1. On this one, I’m hugely biased. This piece is demo song #1 on just about any Roland piano, so i’ve heard it a million times.

    This orchestrated version, though, has a gentle robustness to it.. I know, a contradiction, but there it is.

    Lovely painting for the thumbnail image, looks like early 20th century.

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    1. You have to see and play the music to realize what is going on. It’s written in the key of Gb major, one of the keys that uses all the black keys, and in this key the pentatonic scale is front and center. The same thing is true for Chopin’s Black Key Etuded, from Opus 25 (I think) – the problem is that I know them all but forget the numbers. That is also in Gb major. Pentatonic is 1 2 3 5 6 in any key, so in Gb major: Gb Ab Bb Db Eb.

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  2. This may be an odd comment, but I had an instant picture listening between the two. I have seen photographs that are in black and white, artistically done, which have a beauty not seen in colour photos. The artist had to concentrate on composition, texture, shading, and in fact, colour would distract from that making you less able to see such things. The piano version was like those rare b&w photos; the orchestral version allowed one to revel in the colours of the different instruments. The fact that Michelangeli was playing it and drawing out what he did probably was a factor, just like the photographer with the keen eye.

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    1. I have often heard the “black and white” analogy. I have some problems with this though. I’m mpt sure I like comparing sound to visual things. Regardless, you have to play the piano to realize why any piece is or is not well written for the piano. There are geniuses who wrote very famous piano music that is, frankly, a pain to play. When it is well played you don’t know that. Why you PLAY it, you never forget it. Debussy’s music, like Chopin’s, is very friendly to the human hand.

      For some reason much of the music of Debussy works well when orchestrated. Most piano music does not adapt well to full orchestra.

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  3. The piano is lovely, however, I prefer the orchestrated version. The various instruments add color to the musical picture. I suppose that makes me a non purist.

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    1. I like both. I’m no purist either. That said, it is extremely well-written for piano and so easier to play than you would think. I don’t know who did the orchestration.

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  4. I like both…. The piano version has a lot more force or loudness. The orchestra meanwhile has a soft feel and light tone. Just me guessing, I’d think the orchestra best displayed the piece’s original tone. I’m just guessing, and well the orchestra sounds like it was meant for the notes a little more than the piano.

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    1. In this case, Michael, the original “tone” would be what the composer wrote, so what Debussy wrote obviously did a perfect job of communicating what he had in mind. However, Debussy orchestrated music by other composers, so that does not make his original piano version superior to the same thing orchestrated. You can always get great dynamic contrast with a full orchestra, but the person who orchestrated this piece choose to keep everything gentle and mellow, which I think fits.

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