Gabriel Faure, Pavane

Think about the wonderful uniqueness of a university: people who value knowledge actually make up the majority of its population!  Sure the jocks just mark time in anticipation of the million dollar a year contract. But the smartest of them know that it’s a crapshoot and that you ought to have a degree as a fall back. For the rest, of course the commitment to knowledge runs from seeing it as merely a means to an end all the way to and end in itself. I spent my undergraduate days in the latter camp, because, well quite frankly that’s where the most interesting and sometimes eccentric people hang out.

Take my sophomore French teacher, Starr, for example. The first day of class she strode in wearing tight jeans, a white blouse, and Indian beads. Though thin as a rail, she carried herself with a grace that shone beneath her athletic swagger. Atop her head, a nest of curly hair framed her tanned, freckled face. Large glasses sat on aquiline nose which ended above lush, pouty lips. She looked so French. Then she opened her mouth, and in a breathy seductive voice she said:

“Hi, y’all. My name’s Starr. That’s S, T, A, R, R. Here. I’ll write it on the board for you.”

Still facing us, she reached down, picked up a piece of chalk and turned to the board to write. The turn revealed a large, red, suede star that she had sown over the seat of her jeans. She fascinated me, and over the semester her enthusiasm for French, the works she had us read, and her stories of life in France (and with her French husband who made films) served to cement my resolve to master the language, go abroad, and lead a bohemian life style. Staff had just returned from France to complete course work for her Phd. But being the daughter of an admiral, I think, she grew up in France and spoke French better than most of the professors in the department.

We Americans boast of having no aristocracy, but Starr was about as aristocratic as you get. Not that she put on airs–it came from her upbringing. You know the type–sons and daughters of admirals, generals, diplomats and politicians. They get these huge educational stipends and send their kids to private boarding schools like St. Albans or the Madeira School. They have more breeding and class than the nouveau-riche (sons and daughters of the industrialists and lawyers).

Starr had all this swirling around inside of her, but, unfortunately she drank a lot. Once the French department gave a party in an old house on campus and invited all us majors to mix and sample French music and food. I stayed nearly to the end, getting absolutely paralytically drunk with Starr. We ended up finishing all the booze save for one unopened bottle of white burgundy. Then we discovered no one had a cork-screw! Starr announced in a very authoritative voice: “Don’t worry. I learned a trick in Europe. You wrap the bottle in a towel,” which she did, “and bang the bottom against the wall, slowly but firmly. The pressure will force the cork out.”

We protested, but she insisted she had done it many times before. She walked over to the wall and started banging the bottle against it. Now this occurred in the basement of the house, and the walls were cinder block. After about four bangs, the bottle exploded. She stood there with an astonished look on her face. Party over.

Starr will show up from time to time in these pages as I kept in touch with her for a long time and we even shared an apartment once. I had no designs on her but I did love her depth and breadth of knowledge, her passion for life, her sense of humor and enthusiasm for knowledge. She was a walking pastiche.

This is my segue into today’s piece, Faure’s Pavane A pastiche is a literary, artistic, musical or architectural work make up of selections of different works or in the style of different works. Musically, I don’t think you can call Pavane a pastiche, but the original score calls for a chorus that sings a text, which is a pastiche that, in the style of the poet Verlaine describes some ancient Greek temptresses. I thank my friend John Kim for playing me a recording with the chorus, which I had never heard in my previous 25 years of enjoying this piece.

Most often the Pavane is tacked onto recordings of Faure’s Requiem. It is a hauntingly beautiful piece, in which a flute carries out a dialog with the orchestra. This piece has such beautiful imagistic orchestration that it even inspired Debussy to write a Pavane of his own.  Faure’s starts out with the strings setting up a meticulous rhythm using pizzicato. The flute comes playing what sound like a pensive, almost sad, melody before it gently floats up into an ethereal trill. To keep it from becoming too saccharine, Faure lets the orchestra well up midway through the piece and play an dramatic flourish. Faure then gives the ending back to the flute, which plays in harmony with the orchestra, holding a final note as the piece slows to an end and finishes with the strings resolving on a lush plucked chord.

Which is equivalent to the feeling you get from meeting an interesting person like Starr.

Buy CD or Dowload MP3 of the Pavane from Amazon

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

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