Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 1 : Work information

(Joseph) Maurice Ravel ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Grand Orchestre de Radio Télé Luxembourg, Louis de Froment (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 1
Work number
1911-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Forlane CI
Recording date

Track listing

  • Nocturne 11:55 min


Ravel's sublime ballet score Daphnis et Chloé was commissioned by the great impressario Serge Diaghilev for the 1911 season of the Ballet Russes. In the event, the work wasn't finished until 1912 and stayed in the repertoire of the Ballet Russes for only a year, causing a rift between the two artists.

The ballet was based on an ancient Greek scenario prepared by the choreographer Mikhail Fokine. Based on a legend recounted by the poet Longus, Daphnis et Chloé is a romance set on the Greek island of Lesbos. 

Ravel, inspired by the French artists of the eighteenth century, imagined a 'vast, musical fresco'. To stress the importance of the music in Daphnis, he subtitled the ballet 'symphonie chorégraphique' and in creating two symphonic suites from the ballet in 1911 and 1913, he ensured it a regular place in the concert hall.

The vastness of the score is immediately apparent; the work employs a large orchestra complete with a wordless chorus. Orchestration is also wonderfully evocative; listen in particular for the flute's imitation of Pan's pipe. Ravel's harmonic language surely finds its grandest expression in this masterpiece. 

The Composers

(Joseph) Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel was born in his mother’s aunt’s house in Ciboure, France. His father Joseph was an engineer and actively encouraged a musical career for his son. Maurice was taught privately by Henri Ghys, then Emile Decombes, and finally went to the Paris Conservatoire in 1889. Whilst there, he was influenced by the music of such composers as Rimsky-KorsakovWagner, Chabrier and Satie , and shortly after leaving the Conservatoire in 1895 he returned for Fauré’s composition class.

By 1898 Ravel's music was being published and performed, but the Conservatoire was largely unsympathetic to Ravel’s talents and he failed to win a prize several years in a row, eventually forcing him to leave. In 1905 he tried again for the Prix de Rome, but once again broke the rules. However, he was now an established composer (especially with the Quartet of 1903), and the tricky situation forced the director of the Conservatoire to leave his post, allowing Fauré to take over.

The years that followed were sometimes difficult for Ravel. There was violent debate in the press over the merits of his compositional style, and for a while he turned his back on the arguments and composed a large number of works, among them Gaspard de la Nuit, Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, and Daphnis et Chloé. This last ballet was commissioned by Diaghilev through whom Ravel also met Stravinsky in 1909.

When war broke out in 1914, Ravel was in the middle of a period of concentrated composition. Most of the work was never completed, though his suite Le Tombeau de Couperin survives from this period. The war affected Ravel deeply - he wanted to serve his country but was underweight by two kilograms. He served in the motor transport corps, but felt he wasn’t doing enough. When he contracted dysentery he was moved to Paris to recover, and wanted to compose again, but was deeply affected by the death of his mother.

When Debussy also died shortly afterwards, Ravel was left as the leading figure in French music. The authorities wanted to confer on him the order of the Légion d’honneur, but Ravel refused, as he felt disillusioned with authorities in general. He withdrew from Paris life and moved to Montfort-l’Amaury. His compositional efforts were sluggish and painstaking. He wrote memorials to Debussy and Fauré, and worked on several smaller pieces. He also exercised his genius for orchestration again, most notably with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which was written for piano and which Ravel arranged for orchestra (the version which is most often performed today).

Ravel travelled abroad in Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. In 1928 he travelled to the USA and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University. He wrote Bolero whilst orchestrating some music from Albéniz’s Iberia and the Concerto for the Left Hand for the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein. By 1932, however, Ravel was suffering from Pick’s Disease, which gradually rendered him incapable of even writing his own name. He died in 1937 after an unsuccessful brain operation.

Related Composers: Debussy, Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams, Fauré, Saint-Saens, Rodrigo