Daphnis et Chloé

DAPHNIS ET CHLOÉ - Ballet en un acte et trois parties

1er tableau. Une prairie à la lisière d'un bois sacré.

1. Introduction et danse religieuse
2. Danse générale
3. Danse grotesque de Dorcon
4. Danse légère et gracieuse de Daphnis
5. Danse de Lycéion
6. Nocturne. Danse lente et mystérieuse des Nymphes
2e tableau. Camp des pirates.

7. Introduction
8. Danse guerrière
9. Danse suppliante de Chloé
3e tableau. Paysage du 1er tableau, à la fin de la nuit.

10. Lever du jour
11. Pantomime (Les amours de Pan et Syrinx)
12. Danse générale (Bacchanale)

Daphnis et Chloé was written to a commission from Serge de Diaghilev which Ravel received probably in 1909. The Ballets Russes were enjoying an immense success during their first Paris season, and Diaghilev was eager to secure new works for the following year from leading French composers. Ravel started work in June 1909, using a treatment of the ancient Greek novel by Longus, which had been prepared by the choreographer Mikhail Fokine. Progress was fitful however, and it was another three years before the work reached the stage.

Ravel described Daphnis et Chloé as a "symphonie chorégraphique" - though Diaghilev complained that it was more "symphonique" than "chorégraphique" (Marnat [1986], p.343). At around 55 minutes, it is Ravel's longest work, and it is scored for a large orchestra (including 15 types of percussion) with a (wordless) mixed chorus, heard onstage and offstage. [This last was the cause of a public dispute when Diaghilev staged the work in London without chorus; Ravel wrote a scathing letter which was published in The Times and other London papers (June 1914).]

There was from the outset a difference in concept between Fokine, who wanted to capture the pagan imagery of ancient Greek vases, and Ravel who was inspired by scenes of 18th century painting ("la Grèce de mes rêves, qui s'apparente assez volontiers à celle qu'ont imaginée et dépeinte des artistes français de la fin du XVIIIe siècle." Ravel [1938]). It has been argued that the eroticism of Longus' original text, and perhaps of Fokine's vision, was alien to Ravel's temperament and experience, and that the ballet is an unconvincingly chaste rendering of an exuberant love story (Larner [1996], p.128-130). At the very least, Ravel's portrayal of sexual passion is discreet, and it is for the listener to judge how far his melodies and their orchestration may still fire the imagination.

Rehearsals for the stage production were stormy, with tensions between Nijinsky (dancing the role of Daphnis), Diaghilev, and Fokine (who left the company at the end of that season). The première, on 8 June 1912 at the Théâtre du Châtelet, came only ten days after the first performance, on the same stage, of the ballet on "Prélude à l'Après-midi d'un faun", in which Nijinsky's masturbatory finale had caused a furore. Daphnis et Chloé received only two performances in that season, and its initial impact was muted, at least in comparison with Stravinsky's L'Oiseau de feu and Petrouchka, unveiled in the previous two seasons of the Ballets Russes.

Daphnis et Chloé has perhaps had its greatest success in concerts and recordings, in which its orchestral virtuosity and organic structure can be most fully explored. There are also two orchestral suites drawn with little alteration from the full score:
     Suite d'orchestre no.1 ("Nocturne", "Interlude", "Danse guerrière")
     Suite d'orchestre no.2 ("Lever du jour", "Pantomime", "Danse générale / Bacchanale").