Maurice Ravel's composing style is typically not the most accessible to the casual listener. He uses unusual, but inventive composing techniques to create a unique musical texture. His amazing work Bolero is probably his most popular composition, but the dreamy and delicate Pavane pour une Infante Defunte is definitely a close second.
Pavane was my introduction to Ravel when we played it for orchestra. I hadn't listened to it before rehearsal, and I was stunned by how gorgeous it was. It sounded like we were playing our way up into the clouds of heaven!
Ravel first wrote Pavane for the piano, but he also arranged it for orchestra. It's title is French for Pavane for a Dead Princess. There isn't any super deep meaning for the odd title, he just thought it sounded good with the piece. Ravel said he wanted to write something that a little Spanish princess would dance to. Ravel had a definite soft spot for Spain, as evidenced in this as well as Bolero and Rhapsodie Espagnole.
Pavane is very atypical for Ravel. Usually his music contains unusual harmonies and rhythms, whereas here it is almost traditional sounding. The melody is very calming and beautiful, and this is a song your imagination can have fun with!
This song is to be played slowly, but not dragging. Ravel said once after a very draggy performance of it: "I wrote Pavane for a Dead Princess, not Dead Pavane for a Princess!"