Daphnis et Chloé

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Daphnis et Chloé
Set design by Léon Bakst for the world premiere of Daphnis et Chloé, Paris 1912.
ChoreographerMichel Fokine
MusicMaurice Ravel
Based onLongus' Daphnis and Chloe
Premiere8 June 1912
Théâtre du Châtelet
Original ballet companyBallets Russes
CharactersDaphnis, Chloé
DesignLéon Bakst
SettingAncient Greece
Created forVaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina

Daphnis et Chloé is a 1912 symphonie chorégraphique, or choreographic symphony, for orchestra and wordless chorus by Maurice Ravel. It is in three main sections, or parties, and a dozen scenes, most of them dances, and lasts just under an hour, making it the composer's longest work. In effect it is a ballet, and it was first presented as such. But it is more frequently given as a concert work, either complete or excerpted, vindicating Ravel's own description above.

The dance scenario was adapted by choreographer Michel Fokine from a pastoral romance by the Greek writer Longus thought to date from the 2nd century AD, recounting the love between the goatherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé. Scott Goddard in 1926 published a commentary on the changes to the story Fokine had to apply in order to make the scenario workable.[1]

Composition and premiere[edit]

Ravel began to write the score in 1909 after a commission from impresario Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes, completing it some months before the premiere of the staged work. This took place at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 8 June 1912, with sets designed by Léon Bakst, choreography by Fokine, and the orchestra conducted by Pierre Monteux. Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky danced the shepherdess and goatherd.

Musical description[edit]

At almost an hour long, Daphnis et Chloé is Ravel's longest work. Four discernible leitmotifs give it musical unity.[1][2] The music, some of the composer's most passionate, is widely regarded as some of his best, with extraordinarily lush harmonies typical of the Impressionist movement; even during the composer's lifetime commentators described it as his masterpiece for orchestra.[3]

Suites of excerpts[edit]

Ravel extracted music from the symphonie to make two orchestral suites, which can be performed with or without the chorus. The first was prepared as early as 1911, that is, before the staging. The second, essentially Partie III of the whole, was issued in 1913 and is particularly popular. (When the complete work is performed it is more often in concert than staged.) Ravel adhered to his description of the music in his formal titling of the suites:

  • Fragments symphoniques de ‘Daphnis et Chloé’ (Nocturne—Interlude—Danse guerrière), 1911, commonly called Suite No. 1
  • Fragments symphoniques de ‘Daphnis et Chloé’ (Lever du jour—Pantomime—Danse générale), 1913, or Suite No. 2


Daphnis et Chloé is scored for a large orchestra consisting of:


Part I[edit]

Michel Fokine, Daphnis et Chloé, circa 1910

On the island of Lesbos, in a meadow at the edge of a sacred wood stands 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, 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. 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. Chloé joins him. They proceed toward the altar and disappear at a bend. Daphnis and Chloé enter at the foreground and bow before the Nymphs.

The girls entice Daphnis and dance around him. Chloé 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. At the end of the dance, Dorcon tries to kiss Chloé. She innocently offers her cheek, but with an abrupt motion Daphnis pushes aside the cowherd and approaches Chloé affectionately. The youths intervene. They position themselves in front of Chloé and gently lead Daphnis away. One of them proposes a dance contest between Daphnis and Dorcon. A kiss from Chloé will be the victor’s prize. The group sarcastically imitates the clumsy movements of the cowherd, who ends his dance in the midst of general laughter. 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 Chloé. The group withdraws, taking along Chloé. 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 Chloé’s but he recognizes Lyceion and tries to pull away. As though inadvertently, she drops one of her veils. Daphnis picks it up and places it back on her shoulders. She 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 middle ground, women run across the stage, pursued by pirates. Daphnis thinks of Chloé, perhaps in danger, and runs off to save her. Chloé hastens on in panic, seeking shelter. She throws herself before the altar of the Nymphs, beseeching their protection.

A group of brigands burst on stage, capture the girl and carry her off. Daphnis enters looking for Chloé. 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. As night falls, an unnatural light suffuses the landscape. A little flame shines suddenly from the head of one of the statues. The Nymph comes to life and descends from her pedestal, followed by the second and then the third Nymph. They consult together and begin a slow and mysterious dance. They notice Daphnis, 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.

Part II[edit]

Several pirates from the Ballets Russes premiere of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé. 1912.

Voices are heard from off stage, at first very distant. A trumpet calls and the voices come nearer. There is a dull glimmer. The setting is the pirate camp on a very rugged seacoast, with the sea as the background. To the right and left is a view of large crags. A trireme is seen near the shore and there are cypresses present. Pirates are seen running to and fro carrying plunder. More and more torches are brought, which illuminate the scene. Bryaxis commands that the captive be brought. Chloé, her hands tied, is led in by two pirates. Bryaxis orders her to dance. Chloé 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 and the fearsome shadow of Pan is outlined on the hills in the background, making a threatening gesture. Everyone flees in horror except Chloé, who is given a wreath crown.

Part III[edit]

Enrico Cecchetti in costume as the old shepherd "Lammon" for the premiere of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé

Morning at the grotto of the Nymphs. There is no sound but the murmur of rivulets produced by the dew that trickles from the rocks. Daphnis lies, still unconscious, at the entrance of the grotto. 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 Chloé. They discover Daphnis and wake him. Anxiously he looks around for Chloé. She appears at last, surrounded by shepherdesses. They throw themselves into each other’s arms. Daphnis notices Chloé’s wreath. His dream was a prophetic vision. The intervention of Pan is manifest. The old shepherd Lammon explains that, if Pan has saved Chloé, it is in memory of the nymph Syrinx, whom the god once loved. Daphnis and Chloé mime the tale of Pan and Syrinx. Chloé 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. Chloé reappears and interprets through her dance the accents of his flute. The dance becomes more and more animated, and in a mad whirling, Chloé falls into Daphnis’s arms. Before the altar of the Nymphs, he pledges his love, offering a sacrifice of two sheep. A group of girls enters dressed as bacchantes, shaking tambourines. Daphnis and Chloé embrace tenderly. A group of youths rushes on stage and the ballet ends with a bacchanale.


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 (Sunrise)
  • Pantomime (Les amours de Pan et Syrinx)
  • Danse générale (Bacchanale)

In popular culture[edit]

American trumpeter Harry James, in his 1942 arrangement of Eric Coates's By the Sleepy Lagoon, made use of the Sunrise from Part III for its opening theme.[citation needed] The title song You Can See Forever from the musical On a Clear Day is similar to the same passage.[4]


  1. ^ a b Goddard, Scott (July 1926). "Some Notes on Maurice Ravel's Ballet "Daphnis et Chloé". 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. ^ Lin, Andrew. "Violins and Valentines", The Harvard Independent (February 2016).

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