Daphnis et Chloé

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Set design by Léon Bakst for the world premiere of the ballet Daphnis et Chloé (music by Maurice Ravel), Paris 1912.

Daphnis et Chloé is a ballet with music by Maurice Ravel. Ravel described it as a "symphonie choréographique" (choreographic symphony). The scenario was adapted by Michel Fokine from an eponymous romance by the Greek writer Longus thought to date from around the 2nd century AD. Scott Goddard published a contemporary commentary that discussed the changes to the story that Fokine made to prepare a workable ballet scenario.[1] The story concerns the love between the goatherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé. The ballet is in one act and three scenes.

Ravel began work on the score in 1909 after a commission from Sergei Diaghilev. It was premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris by his Ballets Russes on June 8, 1912. The orchestra was conducted by Pierre Monteux, the choreography was by Michel Fokine, and Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina danced the parts of Daphnis and Chloe. Léon Bakst designed the original sets.

At almost an hour long, Daphnis et Chloé is Ravel's longest work. In spite of the ballet's time length, a small number of musical leitmotifs give musical unity to the score.[1][2] The music, some of the composer's most passionate, is widely regarded as some of Ravel's best, with extraordinarily lush harmonies typical of the impressionist movement in music. Even during the composer's lifetime, contemporary commentators described this ballet as his masterpiece for orchestra.[3] He extracted music from the ballet to make two orchestral suites, which can be performed with or without the chorus. The second of the suites, which includes much of the last part of the ballet and concludes with the "Danse generale", is particularly popular. When the complete work is itself performed live, it is more often in concerts than in staged productions.

Instrumentation[edit]

Daphnis et Chloé is scored for the following large orchestra:

  • wordless SATB choir offstage.

Scenario[edit]

Part I[edit]

A meadow is at the edge of a sacred wood. In the background are hills. To the right is a grotto hewn out of rock, at the entrance of which is an antique sculpture of three Nymphs. Somewhat toward the background, to the left, is a large rock vaguely resembles the form of the god Pan. In the background sheep are grazing. It is a bright spring afternoon. When the curtain rises, the stage is empty. Introduction and religious dance. Youths and girls enter, carrying gifts for the Nymphs in baskets. Gradually the stage fills. The group bows before the altar of the Nymphs. The girls drape the pedestals with garlands. In the far background, Daphnis is seen following his flock. Chloe joins him. They proceed toward the altar and disappear at a bend. Daphnis and Chloe enter at the foreground and bow before the Nymphs. The dance ceases.

The girls entice Daphnis and dance around him. Chloe feels the first twinges of jealousy. At that moment she is swept into the dance of the youths. The cowherd Dorcon proves to be especially bold. Daphnis in turn seems upset. General dance. At the end of the dance, Dorcon tries to kiss Chloe. She innocently offers her cheek, but with an abrupt motion Daphnis pushes aside the cowherd and approaches Chloe affectionately. The youths intervene. They position themselves in front of Chloe and gently lead Daphnis away. One of them proposes a dance contest between Daphnis and Dorcon. A kiss from Chloe will be the victor’s prize. Dorcon's grotesque dance. The group sarcastically imitates the clumsy movements of the cowherd, who ends his dance in the midst of general laughter. Daphnis's light and graceful dance. Everyone invites Daphnis to accept his reward. Dorcon comes forward as well, but he is chased off by the group, accompanied by loud laughter.

The laughter ceases at the sight of the radiant group formed by the embracing Daphnis and Chloe. The group withdraws, taking along Chloe. Daphnis remains, immobile, as if in ecstasy. Then he lies face down in the grass, his face in his hands. Lyceion enters. She notices the young shepherd, approaches, and raises his head, placing her hands over his eyes. Daphnis thinks this is a game of Chloe’s. But he recognizes Lyceion and tries to pull away. Lyceion dances. As though inadvertently, she drops one of her veils. Daphnis picks it up and places it back on her shoulders. She ironically resumes her dance, which, at first more languorous, becomes steadily more animated until the end. Another veil slips to the ground, and is again retrieved by Daphnis. Vexed, she runs off mocking him, leaving the young shepherd very disturbed. Warlike sounds and war cries are heard, coming nearer. In the middleground, women run across the stage, pursued by pirates. Daphnis thinks of Chloe, perhaps in danger, and runs off to save her. Chloe hastens on in panic, seeking shelter. She throws herself before the altar of the Nymphs, beseeching their protection.

A group of brigands burst onstage, see the girls, and carry her off. Daphnis enters looking for Chloe. He discovers on the ground a sandal that she lost in the struggle. Mad with despair, he curses the deities who were unable to protect the girl, and falls swooning at the entrance of the grotto. An unnatural light suffuses the landscape. A little flow shines suddenly from the head of one of the statues. The Nymph comes to life and descends from her pedestal, then the second Nymph, and then the third Nymph. They consult together and begin a slow and mysterious dance. They notice Daphnis. They bend down and dry his tears. They revive him and lead him toward the large rock, and invoke the god Pan. Gradually the form of the god is outlined. Daphnis prostrates himself in supplication. The stage goes dark.

Part II[edit]

Voices are heard from offstage, at first very distant. A distant trumpet calls and the voices come nearer. There is a dull glimmer. We are in the pirate camp on a very rugged seacoast. In the background is the sea. To the right and left, is a view of large crags. A trireme is seen near the shore and there are cypresses here and there. Pirates are seen running to and fro carrying plunder. More and more torches are brought, which violently illuminate the scene. Bryaxis commands that the captive be brought. Chloe, her hands tied, is led in by two pirates. Bryaxis orders her to dance. Chloe’s performs a dance of supplication. She tries to flee, but she is brought back violently. Despairing, she resumes her dance. Again she tries to escape but is brought back again. She abandons herself to despair, thinking of Daphnis. Bryaxis tries to carry her off. Although she beseeches, the leader carries her off triumphantly. Suddenly the atmosphere seems charged with strange elements. Various places are lit by invisible hands, and little flames flare up. Fantastic beings crawl or leap here and there, and satyrs appear from every side and surround the brigands. The earth opens. The fearsome shadow of Pan is outlined on the hills in the background, making a threatening gesture. Everyone flees in horror.

Part III[edit]

The scene seems to dissolve. It is replaced by the landscape of the first part at the end of the night. There is no sound but the murmur of rivulets produced by the dew that trickles from the rocks. Daphnis is still stretched out before the grotto of the Nymphs. Gradually the day breaks. The songs of birds are heard. Far off, a shepherd passes with his flock. Another shepherd crosses in the background. A group of herdsmen enters looking for Daphnis and Chloe. They discover Daphnis and wake him. Anxiously he looks around for Chloe. She appears at last, surrounded by shepherdesses. They throw themselves into each other’s arms. Daphnis notices Chloe’s wreath. His dream was a prophetic vision. The intervention of Pan is manifest. The old shepherd Lammon explains that, if Pan has saved Chloe, it is in memory of the nymph Syrinx, whom the god once loved. Daphnis and Chloe mime the tale of Pan and Syrinx. Chloe plays the young nymph wandering in the meadow. Daphnis as Pan appears and declares his love. The nymph rebuffs him. The god becomes more insistent. She disappears into the reeds. In despair, he picks several stalks to form a flute and plays a melancholy air. Chloe reappears and interprets in her dance the accents of the flute. The dance becomes more and more animated and, in a mad whirling, Chloe falls into Daphnis’s arms. Before the altar of the Nymphs, he pledges his love, offering two sheep. A group of girls enters dressed as bacchantes, shaking tambourines. Daphnis and Chloe embrace tenderly. A group of youths rushes onstage. There is joyful commotion.

Structure[edit]

Part I[edit]

  • Introduction et Danse religieuse
  • Danse générale
  • Danse grotesque de Dorcon
  • Danse légère et gracieuse de Daphnis
  • Danse de Lycéion
  • Danse lente et mystérieuse des Nymphes

Part II[edit]

  • Introduction
  • Danse guerrière
  • Danse suppliante de Chloé

Part III[edit]

  • Lever du jour
  • Pantomime (Les amours de Pan et Syrinx)
  • Danse générale (Bacchanale)

In popular culture[edit]

Music[edit]

Trumpeter Harry James, in his 1942 arrangement of Eric Coates's By the Sleepy Lagoon, made use of the "Lever du jour" from Daphnis et Chloé for its opening theme.[4]

Sports[edit]

In 2002 American figure skater Sarah Hughes won an Olympic gold medal skating to selections from Daphnis et Chloé at the XIX Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Goddard, Scott (July 1926). "Some Notes on Maurice Ravel's Ballet "Daphnis et Chloe". I". Music & Letters, 7 (3): 209–220. doi:10.1093/ml/VII.3.209. JSTOR 726147. 
  2. ^ Orenstein, Arbie (1967). "Maurice Ravel's Creative Process". The Musical Quarterly, 53 (4): 467–481. doi:10.1093/mq/LIII.4.467. 
  3. ^ Hill, Edward Burlingame (January 1927). "Maurice Ravel". The Musical Quarterly, 13 (1): 130–146. doi:10.1093/mq/XIII.1.130. 
  4. ^ "Harry James & His Orchestra Play "Sleepy Lagoon"". MOG (online music). Retrieved 2012-09-12. 

External links[edit]