Written in 1984 for William Moersch, the American percussionist, this is the second of three works Bennett has (so far) composed based on Debussy's Syrinx (1913) for flute solo. The first is for oboe and piano, the third written for the Nash Ensemble receives its preiere in May 1986. After Syrinx II is a good example, if we need it, of the fact that the best music, even for rather specialised instrumentation, is written by the best composers, and not by specialists on the instrument. It is also an illustration that is possible to write music that is light without being trivial.
Bennett of course is a master of writing widely differing pieces for different audiences, and although this piece is based (though very remotely) on serial techniques, it remains extremely accessible. Firstly it is thematic, based on the theme of Debussy's work; also it makes considerable use of repetition and sequence, which opens it up, and certain harmonic patterns are prominent, notably intervals of a semitone and their composite octave equivalents. The movements, which play continuously, are characterised by variation of mood, texture and temp rather than of harmony.
The core of the piece is the central Lento con fantasia, which is flanked by scherzi of a different kinds, the first alternating regular and irregular rhythmic patterns and scurrying triplet figures, and second an ironic march with syncopations. This group of three sections could be regarded as the development to a compressed sonata form, and the opening movement, which presents Debussy's theme along with derived and original material, is the exposition. A brief cadenza joins the second scherzo to the finale, which brings back the mood of the opening and the main subject. The work lasts a little under 10 minutes.