Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess was first composed for a piano solo in 1899, then orchestrated in 1910. This compostion is characteristic of stately Spanish court dances.
The pavane was a slow processional dance popular in the sixteenth century intended to express ceremonial dignity.
The Renaissance Dancers of Southwark, London,
an all ladies troupe
The lady rested her hand on the back of the gentleman's hand, and the couple would proceed taking long gliding steps. The dance was performed with many curtsies, retreats and advances.
As Ravel described his music, "This is not the funeral mourning for a girl who has just died, but an evocation of a pavane that a little princess might, in former times, have danced at the Spanish court."It is considered by many that Ravel's inspiration was a portrait of Margarita Teresa of Spain (1651-1673) painted by Diego Velazquez (1599-1660).
Many musical historians feel that Ravel's pavane "expresses a nostalgic enthusiasm for Spanish customs and sensibilities, which Ravel shared with many of his contemporaries (most notably Debussy and Albéniz) and which is evident in some of his other works such as the Rapsodie espagnole and the Boléro."
Though the pavane is meant to be played slowly, Ravel, on hearing it performed, felt that it was much too slow and plodding. Ravel attended just such a performance, and afterward mentioned to the pianist that it was called "Pavane for a Dead Princess", not "Dead Pavane for a Princess,"
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) had an affinity with Spain; he was born on its border at Ciboure, France, in the Basses-Pyrénées in 1875. While an infant his family moved to Paris. His mother was of Basque origin and his father was a mechanical engineer from Switzerland who played a role in the manufacture of early motor cars. When Ravel was seven years old he began to study piano and attended the Paris Conservatory until 1895.
This video shows the basic steps in the pavane.
There are two Renaissance dances on this video; a pavane and a gallard which is a bit more vigorous.
fn 1. www.pianoworld.com
fn 2. www.frenchculture.org/
fn 3. wikipedia