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Analysis of Syrinx, pour flûte by Debussy

The structure of this piece seems to be very free, almost like an improvisation. It is
based on a simple motif, which is developed in a variety of ways. Repetition of the
motif in different registers provides unity throughout all the variations. There are
big contrasts of volume, pitch, speed and urgency, which exploit the flute’s range
of pitch and dynamics, with a full tone. It is very subtle in its use of note length and
accidentals to make the most of the flute’s expressive powers. The score is
annotated in considerable detail with regard to dynamics, phrasing, breath marks,
pace and expression, thus helping the performer to implement the composer’s

Bars Comment
The key signature of five flats suggests D♭ major or B♭ minor. It starts
firmly on B♭ and ends on D♭.
Section 1 Très Modéré
1–2 Clear statement of the theme, mezzo-forte, which sets the scene for the
rest of the piece and concludes with an emphatic pause. It includes
chromatic decorations but seems to be based on a scale of D♭, E♮, F,
G♭, A♭, B♭, C. The emphasised notes are B♭, A♭, G♭, returning to a high
3 Restatement of Bar 1
4–5 Development of Bar 2, initially an octave lower, inverted, then (broadly)
repeating the first three notes three times (at a steady pace) with the
first note moving up a semi-tone each time, ending with a re-statement
of the first four notes of Bar 4. This introduces B♮ or C♭, leading to a
scale of A♭, B♭, C♭, D♭, E♭, F♭, G♭, A♭, B♭, C♭, D♭, E♭.
6–8 The second part of Bar 5, plus bars 6 – 7, appear to ascend through an
arpeggio taken from D♭m7. Bars 4 to 8 include very subtle rhythmic
phrasing, mostly piano. Sustained high notes in Bars 6 – 8 take the pitch
up to a high E♭, then descending to the original B♭, to bring the first
section to an end with a double bar line.
Section 2 Un peu mouvementé (mais très peu)
9 – 10 Restates the theme an octave lower and piano, repeated in Bar 10
though here the semi-quavers move upwards from G♭ to D♭ rather than
11 – 12 Quite free scalar runs on a scale of B♭ minor. Bar 12 repeats the phrase
in Bars 10 – 11 in double time before ascending to a high A♮.
13 – 14 Along with chromatic runs these bars are centred around the notes A♮
and E♭, which are the significant notes of the dominant chord F7.
Bars Comment
15 – 17 These re-emphasise E♭ while repeatedly using the chromatic decorative
pattern from Bar 2, more and more quietly and slowly. In Bar 16, the
emphasised notes move down through D to C, then through a nice
chord of G♭m to settle on D♭ with an octave leap.
18 – 19 Repeats the notes of Bars 16 – 17 though leaping to a louder E♭ at the
end rather than a quiet D♭.
20 – 21 From the E♭ there is a scalar passage on the scale E♭, F, G♭, A♭, B♭, C♭,
D♭, resting first on A♭, then on B♭.
22 A fast, accelerating run with many chromatic notes, leading to …
23 – 25 Three bars starting and ending on B♭, in which the trills and run seem
to establish B♭ as the tonal centre.
Section 3 au Mouv.t (très modéré)
26 – 27 Restates Bars 1 – 2, with a variation in Bar 27 but ending as before on
28 Restates Bar 3
29 – 30 Each bar is a restatement of Bar 1, an octave lower, but with the first six
notes spread evenly in time rather than as decorative grace notes. Each
set of six notes is a chromatic triplet repeated a tone lower. These link
the two key tonal centres of B♭ and D♭, but in addition to D♭ use all the
chromatic notes from E to B.
Section 4 En retenant jusqu’à la fin
31 – 32 Emphasise D♭ as the centre, in Bar 31 using notes from the initial theme
and in Bar 32 using notes from the whole-tone scale in preparation for
the final run.
Section 5 Très retenu
33 – 35 The piece ends slowly and deliberately with a run down a whole tone-
scale from B♮ to D♭


The piece is subtitled ‘Pièce pour Psyché’. Psyche's quest to win back Cupid's love
when it is lost to her first appears in The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius in the 2nd
century AD. Psyche is a princess so beautiful that the goddess Venus becomes
jealous. In revenge, Venus instructs her son Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with a
hideous monster; but instead he falls in love with her himself. He becomes her
unseen husband, visiting her only at night. Psyche disobeys his orders not to
attempt to look at him, and in doing so she loses him. In her search for him she
undertakes a series of cruel and difficult tasks set by Venus in the hope of winning
him back. Cupid can eventually no longer bear to witness her suffering or to be
apart from her and pleads their cause to the gods. Psyche becomes an immortal and
the lovers are married in heaven.

John Godwood
February 2014

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