The work was written for orchestra, but Faure went on to pen an arrangement that included a choir, although only the original version remains in regular performance today. It’s thought that Fauré probably added the chorus at the request of countess Greffulhe, a wealthy patron of the arts in Paris.
The Pavane began life as a sixteenth-century court dance, and is thought most likely to have originated in Italy. Fauré’s take on the genre is a beautiful example, flowing gracefully and freely in a thoroughly enchanting way. Its success spurred him on towards writing his Requiem, which he had virtually completed a year later.
The orchestral version was first performed at a Concert Lamoureux under the baton of Charles Lamoureux on November 25, 1888. Three days later, the choral version was premiered at a concert of the Société Nationale de Musique. In 1891, the Countess finally helped Fauré produce the version with both dancers and chorus, in a “choreographic spectacle” designed to grace one of her garden parties in the Bois de Boulogne.
From the outset, the Pavane has enjoyed immense popularity, whether with or without chorus. It entered the standard repertoire of the Ballets Russes in 1917, where it was alternatively billed as “Las Mininas” or “Les Jardins d’Aranjuez”. Fauré’s example was imitated by his pupils, who went on to write pavanes of their own: Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante défunte” and Debussy’s Passepied from his “Suite bergamasque”.