F is for Flaxen and Fille – The Girl with the Flaxen Hair; La Fille aux cheveux de lin – Debussy


Sur la luzerne en fleur assise,
Qui chante dès le frais matin ?
C’est la fille aux cheveux de lin,
La belle aux lèvres de cerise.

So begins the poem La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin  by Leconte de Lisle from which the title of Debussy’s famous piano Prélude is taken. The poem is one of four Chansons Ecossaises from the Poèmes antiques by de Lisle.

‘Scottish Songs’ – and indeed, La fille aux Cheveux de Lin was originally set as a song by a young Debussy in about 1882, and dedicated to Madame Vasnier whose portrait is above. She was not a ‘girl with the flaxen hair’, but a married, thirty-something redhead who was a fine singer, an inspiration and a muse to the young Debussy – and much, much more besides. He wrote a number of ecstatic love songs dedicated to her – I could go on, but I urge you to listen to this wonderful programme, Songs for Madame Vasnier, to hear the original La Fille aux cheveux de lin at about 02:36, and an account of  the Debussy/Vasnier relationship and the songs it inspired.

I mention all this as it intrigues me; was the piano Prélude, written in 1909-1910, a memory of Mme Vasnier, or a straightforward evocation of de Lisle’s Scottish lass with her hair of gold, sitting among the flowering lucerne, singing in the cool of the morning?  Or both? Who’s to know, and it doesn’t really matter.

L’amour, au clair soleil d’été,
Avec l’alouette a chanté.

The piece is in G flat major, and opens with an unaccompanied melody which hovers, falls, rises then falls again as the phrase ends demurely. Très calme et doucement expressif , p sans rigueur, the prelude is a mere 39 bars of beauty, understated dynamically – never more than mf – but richly harmonised, the wandering melody moving to the brighter E flat major for the middle section, Un peu animé, where the music momentarily  takes off and soars, like the lark in the poem.

Returning to G flat major, the harmony settles on an unexpected chord over which the opening melody is heard  très doux, floating high above; a middle voice adds warmth as the tonic chord is reinstated. Murmuré et retenant peu a peu, the piece draws to a close, two final octaves quietly arpeggiated.

Sur la luzerne en fleur assise,
Qui chante dès le frais matin ?
C’est la fille aux cheveux de lin,
La belle aux lèvres de cerise.

L’amour, au clair soleil d’été,
Avec l’alouette a chanté.

Ta bouche a des couleurs divines,
Ma chère, et tente le baiser !
Sur l’herbe en fleur veux-tu causer,
Fille aux cils longs, aux boucles fines ?

L’amour, au clair soleil d’été,
Avec l’alouette a chanté.

Ne dis pas non, fille cruelle !
Ne dis pas oui ! J’entendrai mieux
Le long regard de tes grands yeux
Et ta lèvre rose, ô ma belle !

L’amour, au clair soleil d’été,
Avec l’alouette a chanté.

Adieu les daims, adieu les lièvres
Et les rouges perdrix ! Je veux
Baiser le lin de tes cheveux,
Presser la pourpre de tes lèvres !

L’amour, au clair soleil d’été,
Avec l’alouette a chanté.

 by Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle (1818-1894)

Here is Gieseking –

 

 

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Composers, Music, The French Connection - An A-Z of Debussy's music and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to F is for Flaxen and Fille – The Girl with the Flaxen Hair; La Fille aux cheveux de lin – Debussy

  1. sandy says:

    Any idea who did the portrait of Madame Vasnier?

  2. Benedikte says:

    Hi, I am a danish student, writing a big assignment on Debussy and a danish authour, Herman Bang. I am analysing the piece “La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin” and found out, there was a poem with the title, which Debussy based a song on in 1889. I have been looking for the text, and now I found it here on your page. Where did you get it from, if I may ask? If you see this, please write me an email; b.schuldt@live.dk
    thank you so much!

  3. Taesun says:

    Thank you so much! It’s really helpful!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s