Thursday, November 10, 2011

Haunting Melodies

Two Pavanes
"The song is ended / But the melody lingers on."
 -  Irving Berlin
The pavane, pavan, paven, pavin, pavian, pavine, or pavyn (It. pavana, padovana; Ger. Paduana) is a slow processional dance common in Europe during the 16th century.   The origin of this term is not known with any certainty;  possibilities include the word being
from Italian "[danza] Padovana", meaning "[dance] typical of Padua" (as in Bergamask); this is consistent with the equivalent form, "Paduana".  The decorous sweep of the pavane suited the new more sober Spanish-influenced courtly manners of 16th century Italy.  It appears in dance manuals in England, France, and Italy.  The pavane as a musical form survived long after the dance itself was abandoned, and well into the Baroque period, when it finally gave way to the more recent allemande/courante sequence.  Two examples stand out in my experience: 

The classical composition Pavane by Gabriel Fauré is one of my favorites.  Composed in 1887, the same year he set Verlaine's poem Claire de Lune to music, this is a version of this dance form for small orchestra.  Its haunting melody is a melancholy tune that is shared between woodwind and strings.  Maurice Ravel shared a fascination for earlier dance forms, but his famous Pavane pour une infante defunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess) was apparently based as much on the musical style of his teacher, Gabriel Faure.  The piece was written for solo piano in 1899, while Ravel was studying with Faure, and the orchestral version, with its lovely and imaginative use of the french horn for the melody, was composed in 1910.

Both pieces have been adapted for wind ensemble which was where I first encountered them.  Their haunting melodies and evocative harmonies have made them favorites of mine ever since.

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