Tune of the Day: Pavane pour une infante défunte
The Pavane pour une infante défunte (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) was originally written for solo piano in 1899, while Ravel was studying composition at the Conservatoire de Paris under Gabriel Fauré. Ravel also published an orchestrated version of the Pavane in 1910.
The pavane was a slow processional dance that enjoyed great popularity in the courts of Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Ravel described his piece as “an evocation of a pavane that a little princess might, in former, times, have danced at the Spanish court”. This antique miniature is thus not meant to pay tribute to any particular princess from history, but rather expresses a nostalgic enthusiasm for Spanish customs and sensibilities, which Ravel shared with many of his contemporaries (most notably Debussy and Albéniz) and which is evident in some of his other works such as the Rhapsodie espagnole and the Boléro.
When the Pavane was first performed, it was warmly welcomed by the public, but received much more subdued reviews from Ravel's fellow musicians. Indeed, Ravel himself complained that the piece “lacked daring”. Subsequent performances tended to be much too slow and plodding. After one of such performances by pianist Charles Oulmont, Ravel is reported to have complained: “I wrote a Pavane for a dead princess, not a dead Pavane for a princess.”