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‘La fille aux cheveux de Lin’

Jazz Analysis Notes - Nick Homes

Phrase 1 bar 1
This first appearance of the principal motif is mainly unaccompanied.
It can be thought of as an Eb-7 chord. I prefer to think of it as the notes of a Gb 6 triad especially as
there is a plagal IV to I cadence at the end of the phrase in Gb major.
The 6th of Gb (Eb) is such a restful, soulful tension- imbuing the piece from the beginning with serenity.

Phrase 2 bar 8
These first diatonic chords are all diatonic to Gb major - the triads give a hymn like
flavour. The Bb major chord is surprising to the ear, but perhaps not so strident as perhaps
the ear understands this Chord as being the dominant V chord of E flat minor, the relative minor to Gb
however the next chord Eb major really impacts.
The end of this phrase can be analysed in the following ways:
a) Tierce de Picardie- the piece being in Eb minor and ending in Eb major
b) a Modulation to Eb major
c) Modal Interchange from Eb natural minor to Eb major -this explains both the Bb and the Eb major
As always, the sound emotion is what is important. The analysis does NOT make the sound. It is just a way
for us to try to describe and understand what happened- later!

Phrase 3 bar 12 is the second appearance of the principal motif.

This is fascinating as the harmonic accompaniment fluctuates from Gb7 to Ab7 (both chords with the
b7th) in the bass.
The Gb adds a mixolydian flavour whilst the Ab7 adds a lydian sound with the #4 note in this case C natu-

In bar 14 bar there is a subtle but beautiful chord movement -

Eb-7 Db suspended. Indeed this chord Ab-7/Db though common in jazz today was
completely new for the time, we are talking about (1909 or 1910)
If we compare this to the first time the motif is heard we can see the Ab-7/Db suspended chord
is like a substitute of the IV Cb chord of bar 4.

Bars 15-17 are solidly in Gb major

At bar 18 there is another Db sus chord that moves down again to the Gb tonic making the chord a V7
However this chord is played over a Gb in the bass that makes the sound slightly more ambiguous and
The sus 4th of the Db chord (Gb) is heard in the melody this time.
The Cb ( 4th degree of Gb major) is quite pungent here.

The melody at bar 18 over this Db sus traces exactly the notes of the Ab minor pentatonic scale.
Debussy is showing us here, a great diatonic chord scale to use over a Suspended chord .

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Bar 22 .
Here a fresh interesting sound is heard . This phrase contains 2 a polyrhythm, with 2 juxtaposed rhythms,
the top one in 3/4 time and the lower chordal one in 2/4. this produces a depth and rhythmic ambigui-

Bar 24 - the previous phrase ends on an E major 7 over B chord.

This is quite a subtle change of tonality to B major. The Emaj7 being the IV maj7 of this B major tonality.
Just this one note E natural is different between Gb major and B major

Bar 25 -The C#-7_F# (another sus chord) can be thought of as the V7 of B major.
The notes of the chord C#-7 come from the melody here!

So far in the piece we have heard the keys of Gb major Eb major and now B major.

Bars 27 and 28- we hear a perfect example of a jazz II V progression-

G#-7 to C#7 (perhaps the most widely used progression in jazz)
but years ahead of its time. the 9th of both chords are heard in the melody
colouring further the melody notes.
On the G# minor the 9th is A#
and on the C#7 the 9th is D#
I am analysing these 2 chords as coming from B major, even though C#7 contains the E#.
The C#7 is the II7 of B major- a common Jazz sound heard for instance in ‘Take the a train’ - Duke Ellington
(being the second chord of the tune)

The descending phrase that starts in bar 26, is repeated at bar 29 an octave lower, but this time
the phrase ends on a unexpected Bb7sus chord that stirs the emotions.

Bar 31 we hear the Eb major pentatonic starting on the 5th, Bb.

Bar 32 there is a pleasing cluster chord contains the notes Ab Bb C Eb and F
(all the notes of the Ab major pentatonic!)
This chord functions as a V sus chord of Eb major,
again like before at bar 18 , the strong classical V to I Perfect cadence sound is obscured by the chord
over an Eb bass- unifying and producing ambiguity.
This is V7 sus to I chord progression is heard a lot in Jazz especially in repeated vamp sections.
John Coltrane used it alot- listen to the ‘Night has a thousand eyes’
This ascending Eb pentatonic phrase is heard 3 times, each time an octave higher!

At bar 36 there is a sudden emotional change when a Cb major chord is heard!

This is quite a stunning change.
After the previous calm Eb section this next section is like a bright uplifting
ray of light, an out of this world sensation.

A very satisfactory way to analyse these chords

is by way of Modal Interchange.
We can say the Cb (B) Db ( C#) chords come from
the Parallel natural minor to Eb major (Eb minor)
They are chords bVI and bVII and are followed by an Eb- minor chord.

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Bar 37 the following Ab chord is a brighter sound- chord IV in the Eb natural minor scale
containing C natural, the natural 6th of that scale.
As well, bar 36 can could be thought of as a modulation to Gb major- chords:

This uplifting motif is echoed again at bar 38, with a faster harmonic rhythm.
and octave lower.

From bars 39 to bar 40 we hear Ab major to Ab- over Db.

This major to minor sound is so emotionally stirring.

The 4th of the Db sus chord resolves to the 3rd F natural on beat 2 of bar 40.

A new section is heard at bar 42.

Note, the melody of this new section contains the same notes as the original opening motif,
but the rhythm is different.
What makes this section sound new is the open, low chords of the accompaniment,
with the notes of the chords all coming from Eb- pentatonic.

This Eb- pentatonic scale does not contain the striking 4th or 7th (of its relative major Gb major)
so redolent of classical harmony.
So the sound here is again ambiguous and impressionistic.
This phrases comes to rest on Cb (B) major 7 chord which is quite different and pretty.

At bar 44 we hear a higher repetition of this previous phrase again with pentatonic harmony.

The phrase ends on a B chord, marked very softly.

I have decided to notate this in B Major
even though it can be thought of as chord IV in Gb major.

After this chord has been sounded the initial motif is played- for the 3rd time
this time an octave higher than before.
As it is heard over this B chord the melody notes feel different this time-

The C# is the 9th, the A# is the major 7,

such gorgeous pretty notes- so used in Jazz later on.

Bar 53 the polyrhythmic phrase first heard at bar 22 is re-capitulated.

This time double length.

Bar 57 an ascending Ab- pentatonic scale harmonised mainly in 4th’s

leads the listener to the final the final resting place of Gb major.

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I think it would be amiss not to mention the stunning way Debussy used dynamics.
The loudest dynamic is mf in the original score.
The lower numbered harmonics (from the harmonic series/also known as overtones)
produced at these lower levels are quite different from the brighter higher ones produced by louder


It is very interesting to observe the 3 different ways Debussy treated the main theme
The first time just a solo melody at bar 1
The second,(bar 12) the melody over 2 parallel moving chords Gb7 Ab7
and the third and final time at bar 48 played over over B major colouring the notes in a new way.


There are many musical events linked to the number in the piece

1) the piece is in 3/4 time

2) there are 3 key centres Gb, Eb and B
3) the main theme occurs 3 times
4) the descending theme at bar 15 occurs 3 times
5) the ascending pentatonic line in Eb occurs 3 times!
6) the piece is marked at 66 beats per minute - divisible by 3 again!


I have heard that Charlie Parker deliberately played fast and complex tunes in the cutting
jam sessions so as to filter out musicians of lesser technical aptitude.
(check out Koko, Anthropology)
I have also heard expressed the idea that Chopin used key signatures with more sharps and flats
so only more experienced musicians could play his music.

It occurs to me that this Debussy prelude, ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’
could have been written in a simpler way to understand and therefore play.

I wonder if Debussy was ‘filtering’ in some way

The 16th note melody notes could have been expressed as 8ths.
The Different tonalities could have been written with new key signatures to facilitate
reading and some of the bar lines could have been placed in places easier to understand.
These are just my own personal thoughts.

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