The Girl with the Flaxen Hair

(Sept 16, 2019)

Famous for 109 years.

In French: (…La fille aux cheveux de Lin)

Debussy wrote two books of Preludes. He did not want people to worry about his titles or his images, so to bring this point home he put the title at the end of the Preludes, using only a Roman numeral for the title. So what you see is: VIII, meaning Prelude 8. His titles were always in parentheses, following three dots.

This piece was immediately popular, and you can find transcriptions for trumpet, cello, full orchestra and so on. It is literally one of the most popular tunes ever written, with absolutely no doubt.

For reference:

This is a piano roll, so the sound of the piano is not the best, but most interesting of all to me is that he does not follow his own markings much at all. From that I know to take his dynamic markings with a huge grain of salt. He either chose not to play as softly as he indicated, or he was unable to. (It’s the latter, because he dynamic markings are absurd, as are many other things in his notation.)

There are even a couple of very important notes towards the end that Debussy either muffed or left out, and it’s not a good effect.

This version is in many ways much better, which is not an unusual thing. Composers are seldom the best performers of their own music.

And for a better recording, try this, but you have to either listen to all the Preludes or go to around 25:30 for Prelude 8.

The reason that often it is better to listen to great interpreters than composers is that they spend a lifetime studying the music and thinking about it deeply. Nothing that they do is without great thought. Even so, there are things about Debussy’s own playing that I like, and I would always keep in mind his own ideas. Michaelangeli is known as one of the great interpreters of Debussy.

Finally Stokowski’s transcription, which is amazing.

4+

4 thoughts on “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair

  1. I look forward to reading your posts. They are very informative and set the stage for the pieces that follow.

    This is beautiful music but quite difficult to play. I would like to have seen Michelangeli’s hands to see how he played certain passages.

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