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Maurice Ravel: "Daphnis et Chloé", analysis by Gerard Schwarz

Watch full performance here. Created by All Star Orchestra.

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Video transcript

(gentle orchestral music) - [Gerard] Maurice Ravel, one of the great composers of the 20th century, he was commissioned by Diaghilev to do a ballet, "Daphnis and Chloe", premiered two years after "The Firebird". Very much the same cast of characters, the same choreographers, the same dancers, the same huge orchestra except Ravel added a chorus besides the huge orchestra. A kind of similar type story. In this case it was a story about the love between Daphnis and Chloe, and Chloe was abducted and then through the intervention of Pan, who was the God of playing the flute, and his love for Syrinx, and Chloe was found and Daphnis and Chloe lived happily ever after. More or less something like that. From this great ballet that Ravel wrote, he created two suites, and Ravel used basically the first part of the ballet for Suite No. 1, and the second part of the ballet for Suite No. 2. Suite No. 2 is the one that's done the most often. The piece begins in the most remarkable way. The woodwinds, two flutes and then two clarinets, play these incredibly fast notes, one of the most important orchestral excerpts for these instruments. And hard, and fast, and soft. The harp, playing glissandos underneath that, and the double basses, just underpinning the whole thing with kind of a melodic gesture, not a melody, certainly. It is an incredible moment. It creates such an atmosphere. (Orchestra plays "Daphnis et Chloe", Suite No. 2) It is just about to be daybreak. You can just feel how the sun is about to come up. And Ravel uses this melody, (Gerard plays piano) and this melody can go on forever. (piano plays) It's a kind of melody that you can repeat over and over again and just keeps going, but if you think of that little gesture, this little melody, and if you orchestrate it, put it in different instruments and do it in interesting ways, it can be a glorious moment. (Orchestra plays "Daphnis et Chloe", Suite No. 2) And the little bird comes in the piccolo and the solo violins. (piccolo plays) (violins play) So as the day break and the sun is coming up, birds are there, shepherds start to be seen coming through. Obviously they're getting up and getting ready to take care of their sheep, and doing their job in a sense. You can hear this little solo from the piccolo and a little solo from the E-flat clarinet. We have a group of herdsmen come in. And for the herdsmen Ravel uses a slightly different melody. I mean, you can hear the similarities. (Gerard plays melody on piano) (gentle orchestral music) So we have all of this filagree. The glissandos of the harp. There's melodies that are being developed, but nothing, no great gestures yet, and some new material comes in, played by the viola and the clarinet. And you can feel that what's happening now, of course, is that Daphnis is trying to find Chloe. Now, if you didn't know that, it wouldn't matter. It's just, it's what was needed at the moment. You could tell, musically, after all of this, all these beautiful gestures, you can't just do beautiful gestures forever. And he gets a little, a little agitated section. In the story, Daphnis is looking for Chloe and she appears surrounded by the shepherds. (Orchestra plays "Daphnis et Chloe", Suite No. 2) In the next juncture of this ballet, we get the the part where, of course, Chloe has been abducted, and now Pan is helping Daphnis to find her. In fact, they kind of reverse roles. Daphnis becomes Pan and Chloe becomes the Syrinx that Pan loved. And it leads to the sensual section of the piece which is this incredible flute solo. The greatest flute solo probably ever written. Very simple accompaniment, pizzicato strings, second and fourth horn, harp, and this beautiful flute solo. (flute and orchestra play) The flute solo becomes more and more agitated, and eventually, Chloe falls into Daphnis' arms. And it's this mini concerto for flute section. So you see the first flute playing a cascading scale and the second flute picks it up. The alto flute is the final one. Starts with the piccolo and works it's way down the section. And then, in fact, what Ravel does is he continues that, and it continues to be a little, a little flute section concerto right in the middle of this piece. Phenomenal use of the instruments. (Agitated flute and orchestra music) Finally comes to an end and at this moment the nymphs are falling in love and they pledge their love for each other and they dedicate some sheep to their joy together. And it is represented by this somewhat gorgeous chorale. (Orchestra plays chorale in "Daphnis et Chloe", Suite No. 2) This leads us to first inkling of the fast section, 'cause everything 'til now, I believe, has been relatively slow, a build up for the flutes and then it comes back again and then we have this little chorale for the sheep and the shepherds. The women of the company, in this case the dance company, enter to do a special general dance. It starts out where the music that is going to permeate the rest of the piece is sounded, but only a few bars, because immediately it comes back down, and we hear that same beautiful chorale, a solo for the alto flute, and then, the general dance begins. This is the dance that's basically in five. There are a few moments that are in three, but basically in five. So, it's five beats per bar, accent on two. And that in itself is unusual. (Orchestra plays "Daphnis et Chloe", Suite No. 2) At one point, after this tremendous build-up, like any great composer he could have ended it just there. Instead he brings everything back down. Everything back down to the essence, which is the rhythm, and in a very soft way, the snare drum and the double basses play this bum ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum ba. And it's starts over again. And it's so interesting that composers do this, because you know it could end, he brings it back, and then when it does end it's even more exciting. And the end of "Daphnis and Chloe" second suite, is among the most exciting pieces of music one could ever hear. Using seven percussion, four trumpets, four flutes, oboes, English horn, clarinet, I mean, its a huge orchestra. And full of what we know of Ravel, one of the greatest orchestrators of all time. (Orchestra plays "Daphnis et Chloe", Suite No. 2)