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

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Video transcript
(Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe") Gerard: Maurice Ravel, one of the great composers of the 20th century. He was commissioned by Diaghilev to do a ballet, "Daphnis et 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 the story about the love between Daphnis and Chloe. Chloe was abducted and then through the intervention of Pan, who was the God of playing the flute, and his love for the Syrinx. 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. Ravel used basically the first part of the ballet for Suite One and the second part of the ballet for Suite Two. Suite No. Two 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 a melodic gesture, not a melody certainly. It is an incredible moment. It creates such an atmosphere. (Suite Two, Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe") It is just about to be daybreak. You can just feel how the sun is about to come up. Ravel uses his melody. (piano playing) This melody can go on forever. (piano playing) It's a kind of melody that you can repeat over and over again, it just keeps going. If you think of that little gesture, this little melody, and if you orchestrate it and put it in different instruments and do it in interesting ways, it can be a glorious moment. (orchestral music) The little bird comes in the piccolo, and the solo violins. (Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe") As the daybreak and the sun is coming up and 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 the little solo from the piccolo and the little solo from the E-flat clarinet. We have a group of herdsmen come in. For the herdsmen, Ravel uses a slightly different melody. You can hear the similarities. (piano playing) (orchestra playing) We have all of these filigree, the glissandos of the harp, these melodies that are being developed but nothing, no great gestures yet. Some new material comes in, played by the viola and the clarinet. You can feel that what's happening now, of course, is that Daphnis is trying to find Chloe. If you didn't know that, it wouldn't matter. It's what was needed at the moment. You can tell musically, after all these beautiful gestures, you can't just do beautiful gestures forever, and he gets a little agitated section. In the story, Daphnis is looking for Chloe and she appears surrounded by the shepherds. (Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe") In the next juncture of this ballet, we get to the part where, of course, Chloe has been abducted. Now, Pan is helping Daphnis to find her. In fact, they reverse roles. Daphnis becomes Pan, and Chloe becomes the Syrinx that Pan loved. It leads to the central 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 horns, and harp, and this beautiful flute solo. (flute playing) The flute solo becomes more and more agitated, and eventually Chloe falls into Daphnis' arms. It's this mini-concerto for flute section. You see the first flute playing a cascading scale, then the second flute picks it up. The alto flute is the final one. Starts with the piccolo and works its way down in the section. In fact, what Ravel does is he continues that and it continues to be a little flute section concerto right in the middle of this piece. A phenomenal use of the instruments. (Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe") Finally it 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. It is represented by this somewhat gorgeous chorale. (orchestral chorale) This leads us to the first inkling of the fast section. Everything to now 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, the 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. It's five beats per bar, accent on two, and that in itself is unusual. (Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe") 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 bom-ba-dom-ba-dom-ba-dom-ba-dom, ba-dom-ba-dom-ba-dom-ba-dom. It starts over again. 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. The end of "Daphnis et 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, it's a huge orchestra. Full of what we know of Ravel, one of the greatest orchestrators of all time. (Second Suite of Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe")