Pavane pour une infante défunte
Related Artists/CompaniesMaurice Ravel
About the Work
The score specifies 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, harp, and strings. Duration, 6 minutes.
The piano version of the Pavane was Ravel's first popular success; it was played everywhere, gaining for him, as Roland-Manuel recounted, "the esteem of the salons and the admiration of young ladies who did not play the piano overly well." The orchestral version, produced a decade later, is generally regarded as an improvement on the original. Laurence Davies, in his study of Ravel's orchestral music, suggests that "Ravel was probably wise to orchestrate it, and perhaps would have been wiser still never to have written it for the piano."
The striking title Ravel affixed was undoubtedly a factor in its early and sustained popularity—but in a way the composer had not intended. "When I put together the words that make up this title," he declared, "my only thought was the pleasure of alliteration." Because that remark did not circulate widely, the title (given here in its original language, to preserve that alliterative character) has been widely misinterpreted. The English translation, "Pavane for a Dead Princess," is accurate enough in the strictly literal sense (Infante being a French rendering of Infanta, the term for a princess of the royal house of Spain), but Ravel, in conceding that he did have a programmatic image in mind, made it clear that the piece "is not a funeral lament for a dead child, but rather an evocation of the pavane that might have been danced by such a little princess as painted by Veláasquez." In other words, the piece is not elegiac, but of the realm of fantasy and something close to nostalgia: a more apt rendering of the title in English might well be "Pavane for a Princess from a Faraway Time."