Ravel – Pavane pour une infante défunte
Ravel – Pavane pour une infante défunte

Maurice Ravel is widely acknowledged as one of the fieriest, most spirited classical composers of the early 20th Century. The reputation is well deserved: his greatest works, including orchestral masterpieces such as “Bolero,” “Daphnis and Chloe,” and “Rapsodie espagnole,” attest to the composer’s sense of artistic confidence and brilliant originality.

But for sheer orchestral loveliness, one would be hard-pressed to argue any case more strongly than Ravel’s lilting miniature, “Pavane pour une infante défunte.”

Actually, this music was originally penned, not for orchestra, but for solo piano. After its premiere in 1902, it gained fast fame, helping to launch the composer’s career. By the time he orchestrated it in 1910, Ravel was known widely across Europe.

By then, the meaning of the work’s title — which translates roughly, “Pavane for a Dead Princess” — was already widely misunderstood. As the composer would later explain, 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 Velázquez.”

Constructed around a nostalgic theme first played by the horn and imbued with a glistening atmosphere that seems at once exotic and utterly comforting, the six-minute “Pavane” has become one of the composer’s most-performed pieces.

Program notes provided by Joe Nickell

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