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Pavane pour une infante defunte

by Maurice Ravel

Eileen Gilligan Flute and Alex Raineri Piano – Pavane pour une defunte

What a beautiful piece this is !!!!


The Pavane was written in 1899 when Ravel was studying from Gabriel Faure at the Paris Conservatoire. The orchestral version was published in 1910 and became very popular. Ravel frequented the fashionable salon in Paris of Princess Edmund de Polignac who commissioned a piano work from him. The Pavane was the result. A Pavane is a slow stately dance so the title can confuse the player as to how to interpret this piece.

The translation is Pavane for a dead princess which evokes lament feeling but apparently Ravel went to great lengths to explain that the piece was a Pavane a princess might have danced to rather than a lament I do think there is a lot of sadness in this piece. I am like a magnet to sad notes and there are plenty of them in here in my musical view.

My approach was to treat it as a dance but capture the sadness that I felt was there too. The player needs to decide on how they view this piece and what approach they will take before diving into it.

The other reason I chose this piece apart from its beauty was I wanted to talk about playing softly and the tone and colours that go with that.

So often I hear soft playing on the flute as just that with no depth of quality projection or colour. I feel it’s like a spaghetti sauce made with just a can of tomatoes and missing all the tasty ingredients like herbs, dash of balsamic , red wine , salt , pepper etc. Soft playing doesn’t have to be dull and bland.

Soft playing on the flute can still have depth, projection and colour if the harmonics are in tune, the tone is being produced from the speaking point of the flute and the player has control of the airstream. (Foundation Tools section of the website)

This piece will test all this and then some. The skill of holding and blowing through a phase is needed here. I don’t find that hard because I practice all the Moyse Melodious Studies and Tone development on rotation in my daily routine so it comes naturally.

Moyse hones in on soft playing and control at the back of Tone Development Through Interpretation. These exercises are fantastic for all of this, just rotate them in your practice routine.

I am also doing a lot of pp to ff crescendo – decrescendo playing over the full range in my routine and it solves so many problems as well as giving the player the expertise to tackle this Pavane.

There is no easy way to learn this piece it needs control and a well thought out musical approach. One can’t pick it up and wildly blow through it. You could practice it in skeleton form to get the musical line and control before adding the other notes bit by bit.

I haven’t put a flute example here because all the You Tube performances don’t reflect what I am talking about. I have links below of cello and orchestral versions which inspire me and I think reflect the qualities needed.

Gautier Capuçon plays Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte

Pavane pour une infante défunte – Seiji Ozawa Saito Kinen Orchestra

I have attached Moyse playing  No 11 of the Tone Development through Intepretation. This is a really good example of the French School approach to tone and expression.

Gaubert playing his own Madrigal . No bland tone here, just absolute beauty.

Rampal  playing Ave Maria by Charles Gounod. Takes my breath away every time I hear it. 

So tone can sing , have depth and colour , the player just has to want it and do the work to achieve it.

Next time we start a new set of releases. For this recording session I focused on.

  1. Voice to flute and the results that could give me.
  2.  Refinement and control
  3.  Moyse saying “if the singers and the strings can do it , why cant we “