Daphnis et Chloé is a ballet in one act with three parts (scenes) by Maurice Ravel described as a “symphonie chorégraphique” (choreographic symphony). The scenario was adapted by Michel Fokine from a 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. The story concerns the love between the goatherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé.
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 8 June 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 Chloé. 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 duration, four discernible leitmotifs give musical unity to the score. 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. Ravel 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 générale”, is particularly popular. When the complete work is itself performed live, it is more often in concerts than in staged productions.
Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No. 2