Music for Music: Clair de Lune and The Enigma



Roxane Elfasci

Music for Music: Clair de Lune and The Enigma

By Dan Ursini ©2019

On YouTube there is a music video of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” which is spellbinding, a rendition of exquisite tenderness.

The number of views is well over three and a half million. It is one of just four videos posted by Roxane Elfasci, a French classical guitarist. It is not only the best rendition of “Clair de Lune” on guitar; it is one of the very best, period.

I have a feeling many of the viewers of Elfasci’s video are classical guitarists bewildered by her performance. “Clair de Lune” was written for the piano by Debussy. To many it sounds good only on the piano, particularly the rendition provided by Debussy himself, one of the premier pianists of his era:

Besides, music written for a keyboard can be hard to play on guitar. “Clair De Lune” is generally regarded as impossible. A couple faithful arrangements have been written, but only a handful of guitarists can play them, and, even then, it can take a few years to get up to speed.

Elfasci’s version goes well beyond that, employing a highly nuanced approach, especially through her extensive use of harmonics. She performs with astonishing dexterity and grace, her fingers moving through long passages of chords that are excruciating to play. Her composure is central to her performance. She is totally at ease, a portrait of physical and mental command.

Elfasci’s rendition is also a triumph of perspective. It is as if she embeds a human voice in every note she plays. Her phrasing evokes a conversation. There is an emotional overlay of consolation and resolution. It’s an overheard heart-to-heart between two loved ones. Through this performance, Elfasci reveals a moment of her soul’s life with transparent intimacy.

Getting a clearer overall picture about Elfasci, a Parisian guitarist, requires some knowledge of French—which I lack. Just about everything written about her is in that language. A glance (quick and clueless) at her Facebook page suggests she has some presence in French music. I tried contacting her through FB but struck out. If would be great to know, for instance, whether her “Clair de Lune” is based on an arrangement by James Bishop-Edwards—a strong maybe. Predicaments like this remind me that being a true global citizen requires more language skills than a working knowledge of emoticons.

Anyway, Elfasci’s “Clair de Lune” video was released in 2016. Since then, three more have been posted at her YouTube channel. Each rewards careful, repeated listening.  I especially recommend “Una limosna por el amor de dios – El ultimo tremolo” by Agustin Barrios Mangore, a 20th century guitarist and composer from Paraguay:

The fingers of her right hand move with astonishing independence and accuracy. It is fascinating to watch someone so young, already so accomplished, who keeps pushing herself. She has obviously found a great stretch of road on her personal journey.

 

Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine ; he wrote performance art pieces presented at  Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication . In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, has had two recent staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: danursini@aol.com

Roxane Elfasci’s YouTube Channel