Skip to the content

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Prélude à “L’après-midi d’un faune”

10 minutes

3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, crotales (antique cymbals), two harps, and strings.

Claude Debussy’s most famous orchestral work was inspired by Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem, the genesis of which dates as far back as 1865.  L’après-midi d’un faune relates the tale of a faun’s erotic (and unrequited) fascination with a pair of nymphs. 

Debussy described the hypnotic Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun” as “a very free interpretation of Mallarmé’s poem.  It has no pretensions of presenting a synthesis of the poem.  It is rather a series of scenes against which the desires and dreams of the Faun are seen to stir in the afternoon heat.”

In an October 10, 1896 letter to music critic Henry Gauthier-Villars, Debussy observed:

More precisely, the work conveys the general impression of the poem…it follows the ascendant movement of the poem and illustrates the scene marvelously described in the text.  The close is a prolongation of the last line:

“Couple adieu!  Je vais voir l’ombre que tu deviens.” (“Farewell, couple!  I go to see the shadow that you become.”)

Notes by Ken Meltzer © 2020