How A Frenchman Made Me Weep | Dom Hall


Picture this – a sixteen-year-old boy sits alone in his bedroom, sporting navy slippers, whilst Kathryn Stott’s recording of Ravel’s ‘Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte’ jerks a tear from his eye. No, you’re not watching a French New-Wave film about the absurdity of human existence because, somewhat ashamedly, the boy in the slippers is myself.

As a young person, I boasted a fairly limited history with Impressionist composers and their works. My auditory experience of the era consisted mostly of Debussy ‘classics’, such as ‘Claire de Lune’ and ‘Deux Arabesques: Andante Con Moto’. Both are works of staggering beauty, a beauty that I often overlooked due to repeated listening causing an emotive desensitization. Therefore, when the omnipotent forces of Spotify began to play the aforementioned work by Maurice Ravel, I felt as if the entire population of turn-of-the-century Paris had smacked me round the face with a Monet painting. As Stott effortlessly introduced me to Ravel’s sublime, flowing melody, I was instantly swept away and with each note my heart felt a new emotion, increasingly stronger than the last. Over the next 5 minutes, Stott and Ravel would take me on a journey through the bittersweet beauty of a little Princess’ dance that could have been, but never was, danced.

Throughout the composition, Ravel uses various Impressionistic devices (that I won’t bore you with) to blur tonality, a feature not dissimilar to how Impressionist painters would use broad brush strokes to blur the lines of their paintings, resulting in works that require the viewer to take a step back in order to appreciate the wider scene that confronted them.

It is perhaps this characteristic that captivated me so much that evening, the air of self-reflection and detachment, instilled by Ravel’s excellent exploitation of form and ambiguous, rich harmonic writing. Subsequently, one is nursed into an outer-bodily state of deep nostalgia whilst taken on a voyage of humbling, fundamentally human emotions. Emotions which, when coupled with the lonely timbre of a delightfully played grand piano, are capable of reducing a 21st Century teenager to tears.