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At my latest lesson I took along La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair) by Claude Debussy. I had looked at the piece about a year ago, but hadn’t got very far with it. It is an absolutely beautiful piece. I have no idea why, but every time I hear it I always think of Japan.

I have been told that I need to be able to play up to bar 16 by my next lesson in a week’s time. That will be quite a challenge for me, as there are a few tricky things for me to master. It is written in G-Flat major, which has 6 flats; this isn’t too much of a problem, you just need to remember the only white notes are B (C-flat) & F. No, the hardest part for me is all the held notes. There are a lot of these throughout the piece and I have been struggling with them. In bar 10 the right hand has to play and hold a D, then plays a C, lifting this note up, following this with a B, which is then held, followed by an A which is not held and finally a G which is held. It requires real mental effort to not lift the wrong fingers up. I’m sure that if I keep playing it over and over the muscle memory will kick in, but there are loads of parts like this to perfect. Without these held notes though, the richness of the sound is lost, so I really want to learn it properly, and not practice wrong fingering which will need to be unlearnt.

There is also the issue of how to play the last notes of bar 6. The left hand needs to play an E2 a B2 a G3 and a B3; since this is not possible with one hand you need to bridge all the notes. My piano teacher has taught me to roll the low E and the B early and then play the G and B together on the beat. Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli plays the low E and then the other 3 notes on the beat, whereas Lang Lang rolls all 4 of the notes so that the last B is on the beat. I guess the original score isn’t clear on how to tackle this. It would be great to hear a recording of Debussy playing it, but I’m not sure if one exists. For now I will do as I am told by my teacher.

I really don’t know much about Debussy or the history of La fille aux cheveux de lin, other than that he also wrote Clair de Lune, which is another piece I would like to be able to play. I will try to do some research on him and may post up about him, but only if I can find out something interesting; there seems little point in me just précising his Wikipedia page.

Until I can perfect The Girl with the Flaxen Hair myself and can post up a video of me playing, I have linked to a video of the acclaimed pianist Michelangeli playing it.

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