Gabriel Fauré: Pavane
Originally composed for solo piano, Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane is now better-known for its orchestral and optional choir versions. The all-orchestral version is performed often across the globe, with it also being dubbed as one of the most relaxing pieces of music ever composed.
Fauré composed Pavane in 1887 and described the work as “elegant, but not otherwise important.” He composed the orchestral version at Le Vésinet, where he envisaged using modest forces and to be performed as a type of light music at outdoor summer concerts. The work is dedicated to Fauré’s patron Elisabeth, cometesse Greffhlhe. She became the driving force behind the addition of the choir in the new orchestration.
The orchestral version was premiered at the Concert Lamoureux under the baton of Charles Lamoureux in 1888. The choral version was premiered at a concert three days after.
Based on the slow processional Spanish court dance of the same name, Fauré’s Pavane is celebrated for its slow harmonic movement, light orchestration and haunting atmosphere. The work sees the main melody first announced by a solemn solo flute before the different sections take turns in playing through the ebbs and flows of this iconic melody.
In a letter to his wife, Fauré explains part of his creative process behind the main melody of Pavane:
“While I was thinking about a thousand different things of no importance whatsoever, a kind of rhythmical theme in the style of a Spanish dance took form in my brain. This theme developed by itself, became harmonised in different ways, changes and modulated; in effect it germinated by itself.”
Fauré’s gift for melody shines through Pavane, with each instruments delicately developing the lilting motif. The woodwinds bring colour to the piece, with Fauré’s pairing of the winds and two horns bringing a selection of vibrant timbres to the music. The melody lines gentle sway, but are always heading forwards until the music comes to a gentle close.
Gabriel Fauré’s iconic Pavane later influenced composed such as Ravel and Debussy, whose Pavane de la belle au bois dormant and Ma mère l’oye were heavily inspired by Fauré’s simplistic style.
Although not perhaps one of Fauré’s most groundbreaking of works, Pavane is one of the most performed works in Fauré’s catalogue. Its accessibility is often a hit with listeners, and is a perfect piece of music to aid relaxation.
Ⓒ Alex Burns