Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Turn of the 20th Century > Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn (Debussy)
the Afternoon of a Fawn
(Prélude à l'Après-midi d'un faune)
The prelude, "Afternoon of a Faun," suggested by the symbolic poem of Mallarmé, "L'Après-midi d'un faune," was performed for the first time in Paris, in 1894. Notwithstanding the somewhat obscure text of the poem, the composer has accompanied it with delicate, expressive, and graceful music significant to the sensuous, pleasure-loving nature of the Faun. It is in effect a pastoral rhapsody without fixed form, the composer apparently having given himself up to the formless and sensuous character of the text. The principal theme is given out in the solo flute and colors the entire prelude. It is a very dreamy melody and is heard repeatedly in the woodwind tones and distant sound of horns. After the theme has had its way, the oboe and clarinet enter in a dialogue of a passionate nature. The flute theme soon returns, however, and after a subsidiary passage in the 'cello, rejoins the flute, the melody finally dying away as the charming picture disappears. The spirit which prevades the closing section is reflected in Edmund Gosse's rhapsodical interpretation of the concluding lines of the poem :
The delicious hour grew vaguer. Experience or dream, he (the Faun) will never know which it was. The sun is warm, the grasses yielding ; and he curls himself up again after worshiping the efficacious star of wine that may pursue the dubious ecstacy with the more hopeful boskages of sleep.