Sunday, June 26, 2016

Righteous Classical Music: Daphnis et Chloe Suite no.2 by Maurice Ravel

A ballet that premiered in 1912, Daphnis et Chloe is more remembered for its exquisite score than for its plot, characters, or choreography. The ballet is set in ancient Greece, and follows the shenanigans of the lovers Daphnis and Chloe, as various obstacles get in the way of their happy ending.
Many regard this as Ravel's greatest work. I am a huge fan of this music, and it's pretty much tied with a bunch of other stuff as my favorite Ravel. It's perhaps not the most approachable music, but once you're used to the impressionistic music style, you can start to really appreciate it!

The first movement of this suite, Lever du Jour, is a glorious musical portrait of the rising of the sun. Rippling woodwinds and harp sound like the sunlight painting the Grecian landscape, while three solo violins and a piccolo sing the morning songs of birds. It crescendos into a transcendent chord, and in your mind's eye you can see the sun break over the hills!
I love the theme that is carried by the strings. It just kind of floats above the texture of the accompaniment, like hazy morning fog. There are two solos for piccolo and Eb clarinet respectively. These solos are meant to be the songs played on the pipes of a shepherd!

Pantomime, the second movement, is where Daphnis and Chloe re-enact the story of Pan and Syrinx, and features one of the most beautiful flute solos in the orchestral repertoire. It's basically supposed to be the invention of the flute, as Pan takes a reed and blows a sorrowful melody through it. As the 'first thing' played on a flute, it must sound like it's being improvised, which is just too cool!

Danse Generale is probably the most popular section of the suite. When performed with a choir, the work takes on a primal, almost hypnotic vibe. It's a triumphant ending with the two lovers reunited, and this dance is a wild celebration. It's pretty crazy!

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