09 March 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Spotlight Ravel: “Daphnis et Chloé”

Maurice Ravel’s longest piece is “Daphnis et Chloé”. Lasting more or less an hour, it was written for Sergei Diaghilev’s “Ballets Russes” between 1909 and 1912.

It is certainly not only one of Ravel’s most beautiful works but one of the most remarkable events in all French music.

Igor Stravinski on „Daphnis and Chloé“

The entire ballet does not feature very often on concert programmes, as opposed to the two suites Ravel extracted from the ballet (partly even before the first performance) and especially the second of them. Ravel was one of the best orchestrators ever, and the beginning is a stunning impression of a summer sunrise complete with ravishing bird imitations and leading to the “Pantomime”, one of the great flute solos in the repertoire. The third part “Danse générale” is a wild bacchanal, akin to the relentless maelstrom of Ravel’s “La Valse” a few years later (like most conductors, Karajan performed the piece without Ravel’s choral part and its wordless keening).

The second “Daphnis et Chloé” suite was the piece by Ravel, Karajan performed most often (47 times). It also was on the programme for a momentous concert in his life. The first concert with the Berlin Philharmonic on 8 April 1938 was the beginning of a relationship that lasted for over 50 years. Richard Osborne reports: “All the reviews agree that the suite from Ravel’s ‘Daphnis et Chloe’ was the highlight of the concert. Not even Heinrich Strobel, one of Berlin’s most experienced and exacting critics, whose knowledge of the score was second to none, could recall hearing a more atmospheric, a more brilliantly coloured or a more dazzlingly exact reading than this.”

Karajan produced two concert films of the suite in 1978 and in 1986.


We’ve prepared playlists for you with several recordings of „Daphnis and Chloé“ by Karajan including a life performance with James Galway playing the flute solo. Listen here.

Richard Osborne “Karajan. A Life in Music” Chatto & Windus, London. 1998

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