This month on Clef Notes, we’re learning about exoticism and how it’s used in music. Last week, we looked at two examples of exoticism in opera. This week, let’s move our attention to examples in chamber music.
Claude Debussy’s Syrinx for solo flute is an excellent example of an exotic work that doesn’t necessarily focus on a foreign region, but an ancient and mythological time period. Composed in 1913 for Gabriel Mourey’s play Psyche, Syrinx tells the story of a nymph who turns into reeds in order to escape the pursuits of the satyr Pan. When the wind blows against the reeds, they create beautiful music that attracts Pan’s attention. Turning them into panpipes, Pan kills his love without knowing it. Debussy writes in his characteristically chromatic way, creating a sense of mystery in his depiction of this Greek myth. Listen to this lovely yet mournful piece below, performed by Emmanuel Pahud: