Ravel's score for his Daphnis et Chloe ballet is full of masterful ochestration as is exemplified in most of his works including his adaptation of Mussorgsky's `Pictures at an Exhibition'. It is scored for a large orchestra that includes a piccolo, flutes, oboes, English horn, clarinets, bassoon and contrabassoon, french horns, trumpets, trombones, tubas, harps, three timpanists, a wind machine, divided strings and four-part chorus.
It took Ravel a long time to complete Daphnis. He began writing in 1909 and completed in 1912. Ravel looked at himself as a failure for not having produced works of significance in his life. Ravel wrote in his diary that his intention in composing Daphnis was to write for a large musical fresco with dedication to the Greek narrative rather than being archaic. He wrote that he wanted to write the music symphonically as per a tonal scheme, using very few motifs. Ravel has assigned set motifs and instruments to signify all the main characters. Their repetitive nature makes the score almost a symphonic one where motifs are being developed organically. The inspiration seems to have come from Saint Saens' Samson et Dalila, Borodin's Prince Igor and Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherazade. Ravel has managed to maintain a vast range of spatial effects and musical textures by repeatedly dividing the strings into eight parts. He is also using the function of mutes frequently. Strings are sometimes playing on fingerboards. There are few instruments that are even placed behind the stage. The chorus in the whole ballet ( not in this Second Suite) is instructed to sing from behind the stage with closed mouths - something that Holst liked and used in his Neptune in his Planets Suite. The vocals are wordless.
The closing moments of Daphnis bring to mind the constant pounding rhythms reminiscent of the industrial sounds coming from several factories which intrigued Ravel. The tonal centres have a wide range. The key signatures also have a range from about six flats almost to seven sharps. Daphnis is a score that can be noted for its revolutionary rhythms. Much of the Dance Contest music is written in 7/4 time with the first couple of measures shown as (3+4)/4 for guiding the players. The Bacchanale is in 5/4 time. Each measure is divided by a bar line which is dashed into (2/4+3/4). The dancers found it easy to keep memorising the name of the choreographer `Ser-Gei Dia-Ghi-Lev' to remember the beat. They have to accelerate into a rhyhthmic 3/4 before the thrilling climax at 2/4. There are many accents that are unprepared in the entire score with sudden tempo adjustments to be made. There is never an indication of a steady pulse. The dancers had to keep their score in their heads with simplified methods of their own in order to get the feel of the music and coordinate their moves accordingly. If the dancers found this complex, then what do you think was their reaction when Le Sacre du Printemps came on to the French ballet scene the very next year?
This is a great read by Seiji Ozawa and Paris Conservatoire. I am also impressed by the performances of Zubin Mehta with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Georges Pretre with the Vienna Philharmonic and Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic.