Monday, December 31, 2012

Syrinx by Debussy - Pan's Pipes... Le Flûte de Pan....

Syrinx - Arthur Hacker - 1892
A haunting piece of music was used in a 70's television dramatisation and from the minute I heard it all those years ago it absolutely captivated me. Shortly after that I came across a version of it performed by the flutist James Last, but with time I lost the cassette, and worse still could not even remember the title of the piece in question, despite all my attempts to follow its elusive trail ever since. I did get sidetracked by the fact that the television drama had been set in India, so I thought there was some vital Asian link.
In fact, Syrinx, written by Claude Debussy in 1913, elaborates the ancient Greek myth of Syrinx and Pan and the musicality born from their unfortunate encounter...

Debussy's ethereal music creates a plaintive, soulful sound that is literally enchanting and joyful too in all its magical beauty. It still makes my skin prickle just as it did when I was a child! It is a relatively short piece, of around three minutes in length, which seems to make it all the more haunting because it does not get diluted in any way. Syrinx was unusual for its time (just before the First World War) since it was an avant-garde solo flute performance. Originally called Flûte de Pan, it was intended to provide atmospheric background music to the uncompleted play, Psyche, by Gabriel Mourey.
Faeries -Brian Froud and Alan Lee 1978 Pan Editions
Syrinx relates the tragic end of Pan's pursuit of the nymph Syrinx and the melodious creation that results from this. Son of Hermes and a wood nymph, the bearded, horned Pan was a deity of woods and mountains, symbolizing shepherds, pastures, spring and fertility. Half-man, half-goat, Pan was one of the companions of Dionysus, the god of wine, and wished to pursue his love/lust interests. Despite being a well-endowed satyr, Pan's physique did not meet with much success and he was frequently ridiculed and his amourous advances spurned. He left Mount Olympus in order to try his luck in the rustic beauty of Arcadia, free to roam the woods with his unbridled sexuality. Still repeatedly rejected, the over-sexed goat was prone to fits of frustrated anger which would inspire panic (panikon deima) all around him. Stamping his cloven feet, he would stomp off, ready to vent his frustration in yet another amourous mission only to find his bestial love unrequited and his love interests literally slip between his fingers. Although Pan did manage to seduce the moon goddess, Selene, by concealing his hairy back, this was a solitary conquest. Spurned by the nymph Echo, who scorned the love of any male, Pan had her torn to pieces and scattered all over the world, forever repeating the words of others. As for Pitys, she was turned into a sacred mountain fir tree by the piqued Pan. Turning his attentions to Syrinx, the lecherous goat was to witness another metamorphosis when yet another potential lover fled his carnal advances. As Syrinx was a follower of Artemis, the goddess of chastity, she was little drawn to Pan the phallic god!
Not Pan, but a Scottish Urisk (Faeries - Brian Froud and Alan Lee 1978 Pan Editions)

There are variations to the sequence of events, but Pan chased the fleeing nymph who successfully escaped him until she reached the river Ladon. Finding herself in front of an unsurmountable obstacle, she begged the water nymphs to turn her into water reeds so that she could hide in the marshes.

Unable to locate his prey, Pan was only able to lay his greedy hands on the reeds. Noticing the plaintive notes produced by these through his sighs of desperation Pan cut the reeds down, using nine pieces to fashion himself a pipe to play, only then realizing that he had just killed Syrinx.

From Faeries - Brian Froud and Alan Lee 1978 Pan Editions

Although it was Ovid who first wrote about Syrinx and Pan in his Metamorphoses, but the English poet John Keats (1795-1825) also gave an account.. 
... fair trembling Syrinx fled  Arcadian Pan, with such a fearful dread. 
Poor nymph- poor Pan - how he did weep to find 
Nought but a lovely sighing of the wind
Along the reedy stream; a half-heard strain, 
Full of sweet desolation, balmy pain.

So with a haunting melody I'll say goodbye to 2012 - not a great year - and will look forward to 2013!

1 comment:

  1. chère amie inconnue,
    je vous remercie de vos vœux de sérénité que je ne découvre qu' aujourd'hui. Mais la sérénité nécessite le maintien d' une grande liberté à l' égard des calendriers.
    j' ai beaucoup apprécié les trois minutes de paix que m' ont apporté la musique de Schubert. Que vous donner en retour à vous qui avez la générositè de mettre votre créativité au service de tous ceux qui peuvent la recevoir ? je peux au moins vous assurer que je suivrai en 2013 votre blog, à mon rythme paresseux mais attentif à ce que vous ressentez et exprimez.bonne année dans la plus grande des serénitès possibles.continuez car vous êtes une personne trés précieuse.avec tout mon rspect;


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