Daphnis et Chloe was regarded by Maurice Ravel as a choreographic symphony, something that transcended just a ballet. Instead of music accompanying dancers, his idea was that dancers accompany the music. Even while casually listening to the piece in the background, you can hear how descriptive and orchestral it was. I suppose in this sense, one could use this more-than-just-a-ballet example as the beginning of the movement towards Wagner’s gesamkunstwerk: an idea that attempted to bring every aspect of a performance into the artistic realm.
I’m sure this example would be used for this, would music history classes not be preoccupied – and rightly so – for Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring that premiered the year after (1913). This revolutionary ballet used aspects of primitivism, which attempted to eliminate the use of melody, harmony, and form within the orchestra, and in doing so, scrape away the “stuffiness” that had formed within music over the centuries. Helping in his goal to “come back to nature” was Vaslav Nijinsky, the main dancer for Ravel’s piece, and choreographer for Rite of Spring.
I suppose after talking more about Rite of Spring than my Music of the Day choice, I should at least include the ballet below. Note how “ballet” is now used very loosely.
This ballet was not taken very well at its premiere. All went fairly smoothly through the first half, but by the second, people had had enough, and were yelling obscenities at the dancers. Equally loud were people telling them to hush. To quiet everyone, the house started turning on and off the house lights, only adding to the confusion. Combined with the noisy orchestra trying desperately to read music that barely sounded like any music they had heard before, the situation must have been incredible to witness.
Ah, once again poor Ravel’s Daphne is overshadowed. But it’s good to compare the two to each other, and the comparison provides a perfect example of the turmoil and experimentation of classical music at about the turn of the century.