Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Daphnis et Chloé: Suite No.2
1.Lever du jour
The myth of Daphnis and Chloë comes to us through a 2nd century Greek text credited to Longus. The story is fairly typical of pastoral erotica of the period: two children, raised by shepherds on the isle of Lesbos, nurture an unrecognised passion for each other that is brought to the surface through the medium of mutual peril. More notable is its characterisation, which is more extensive than its more plot-driven contemporaries, and puts it closer in style to a modern novel.
The combination of sex, mild adventure and textual innovation therefore made the story naturally attractive to the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev as a potential subject for the Ballet Russe when they sensationally swept into Paris in 1908. Ravel, the composer earmarked by Diaghilev for the commission, was however more dubious: he disapproved of the racier elements of the story, and this led to arguments with the choreographer Mikhail Fokine, with whom he wrote the scenario for the ballet. An episode in which Chloé is abducted by pirates ended up particularly toned down from the original, and Ravel's final score dispatches it in an alarmingly perfunctory manner.
Beyond these aesthetic disagreements, Ravel found the work immensely difficult, and many of his most famous pieces of this period, such as Ma Mère L’Oye were in fact produced largely as procrastinatory diversions from completing work on Daphnis. The premiere, originally slated for the Ballet Russe's 1910 season, was continually delayed as Ravel fiddled with the score, and it was not heard in public until 1912.
The music that is performed in concert as the Second Suite consists of the finale of the ballet, by which point what little plot there is has been resolved. After a depiction of dawn, one of the very finest pieces of orchestral writing Ravel ever produced, the reunited lovers perform a pantomime in thanks to the gods, an enacting of the myth of Syrinx, who, pursued by the god Pan, came to a river, and, asking for help from the river nymphs, was transformed into a water reed, from which the frustrated god fashioned his eponymous pipes. There then follows a final bacchanal, whose pagan frenzy is intensified by a wild quintuple pulse.