Somehow I managed to overlook the centenary of the death of French composer Claude Debussy a couple of weeks ago (he died March 25, 1918). Now, I know he was not a composer for the guitar, but a number of his sublime Impressionist piano works (and other pieces) have been translated to guitar (particularly for guitar duos), and I’ve really fallen in love with quite a few of them, so I wanted to mark the occasion by posting a video of another piece that was previously unfamiliar to me: La Fille aux cheveux de lin (which translates as “The girl with flaxen hair”). The piece, which was completed in early 1910 and published in June of that year, was the eighth in Debussy’s first book of Preludes. The composer took his inspiration from a passionate love poem by French writer Leconte de Lisle (1818–1894).
This exquisite piece is performed here by San Francisco-based guitarist Jon Mendle, who is a product of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s undergraduate and graduate programs, and has carved out an interesting career for himself working often as a chamber musician—he’s a member of the San Francisco Guitar Quartet and several years ago toured with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. Additionally, he teaches both privately and at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California (two hours north of SF). He is a specialist in 19th century music and usually performs either on a contemporary reproduction of a 7-string heptacorde (famously championed by Napoléon Coste) or an 11-string Archguitar, which he calls “a hybrid of early and modern guitars, making it ideal to play a wide range of early music as well as certain modern and impressionist works.” This particular instrument was crafted by Alan Perlman in 2007. A beautiful instrument playing a beautiful piece.—Blair Jackson