Flutist or Flautist — Aralee’s blog

Flutist or Flautist — Aralee’s blog

Daphnis and Chloe: What’s in a Note?

12 Comments Uncategorized

From the very beginning there has been a discrepancy between the score and the flute part in the opening notes of the famous flute solo in Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe.

The ascending scale which launches the beautiful solo begins as follows:
A, B, C#, D, E-sharp, F# G#, A, G#

but in the score it reads:
A, B, C#, D, E-natural, F# G#, A, G#

For decades, the two scales have co-existed in performance, with some flutists choosing to follow the score, some, the part.

Adding to the confusion, a new edition of Daphnis appeared circa early 90’s . Far from bringing the flute part into agreement with the score, there appeared there a 3rd permutation of the scale, this time with a D#:
A, B, C#, D#, E#, F#, G#, A, G#

So which scale is right? Scale 1, 2 or 3?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what the composer intended? In fact, we do.

Someone asked Ravel, and that conversation was passed down, in that way we treasure in the study of our art form, from teacher to student. Flutist George Laurent, of the Boston Symphony, had the opportunity to ask the composer himself about the discrepancy (sometime before the composer’s death in 1937.)

Laurent received this answer: the E-natural of the score is what Ravel wrote. Laurent relayed this information about the E-natural to his student Bob Willoughby (in the late 40’s) and in kind, Bob Willoughby tells his own students.

In spite of the existence of reliable word-of-mouth—I’ve heard of a similar path via Marcel Moyse) it seems as though most flutists these days are playing the E#. People either don’t know about the story or choose to disregard it, and in any case have gotten totally used to hearing it played that way.

It’s my own guess is that people are really hooked on the exotic flavor of the augmented 2nd jump from D to E#. It is, admittedly, a wonderfully groovy interval—and, as the daughter of a jazz musician and improviser, who am I to discourage anyone from enjoying it? What’s in a note? Why not even play it one way one time and a different way next the time?

But no, I can’t. I can’t enjoy playing or hearing the E#. I think there are clues in the music itself that go along with the eye-witness report. Namely, the total absence of augmented seconds in any of the Grecian-themed passages of the ballet. Scalar passages abound in the music and they all have a modal quality to them.

That’s my feeling on the matter of one little note. What’s yours? Do you have a Daphnis story of your own to share? Please contact me or submit a comment!


  1. Catherine Baker - August 10, 2014 9:45 am

    Thanks for this Aralee! I always find this discussion so interesting. Personally, I love the ease of the E natural scale…but because of what is “in vogue” these days and where I am in my career, I stick with the E#. I think it’s what most committees would expect to hear in an audition, but I am sure that there are exceptions to this “rule” all the time! What should an auditioner play at an audition?

    • Aralee Dorough - September 11, 2014 9:05 am

      Hi Catherine!

      I can understand your concern about what to do in auditions: E natural or E sharp? I can answer in two ways.

      First line of reasoning: I feel pretty confident saying that the choice is of little importance—it’s not a deal-breaker to an audition committee—it may not even be on their RADAR. (see my reply to Karleigh, below, for more on this tack.)

      Looking at it another way, and purely for the sake of making a general point about “audition mindset”:

      beware of being too much “in vogue” or being afraid to play something the way you believe it should be played. Audition committees sit there bored to tears by this approach.

      Little differences, little extra touches—when beautifully executed—are what move a player forward in the audition and hiring process. That, and flexibility—this gives me a good topic for my next blog!

  2. Lisa - August 10, 2014 11:38 am

    Aralee, Thank you so much for posting this information! I knew of the discrepancy with the score but did not know the Laurent story. I must say I’m one of those that enjoys the exoticism of the E#. I wonder what type of moment that was, in which Laurent received the information. Did Ravel just refer to the score and confirm what was written there, or did he actually give the E# consideration after which he thoughtfully declared a preference for the E-natural? The absence of any other augmented 2nds in the rest of the ballet is a strong argument for the E-natural. However, does the presence of the E# here and nowhere else make the moment even more sensual and dramatic? I think perhaps the most important thing as performers is that we play whatever we play from a point of consideration and clear intention…with mindfulness. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about your playing – it’s so incredibly thoughtful….that and your amazing sound.

    • admin - August 10, 2014 10:06 pm

      Dear Lisa,
      Thank you so much! Ravel made his comment from the podium. In 1928 he came to America and conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra. George Laurent was principal flutist of the BSO from 1918-1952, Doriot Anthony Dwyer succeeded him.

      Now that I have started writing about this, I will make a point to listen to some of the recordings of Daphnis I used to listen to growing up One was Doriot Dwyer with Boston, the other Mo Sharp with the Cleveland Orchestra. If I remember correctly, they both played the scale with an E-natural.

      In any case, the way I understand the story as told by Mr. Willoughby, is that the E-sharp was dismissed as a mere copyist’s error. My hunch is that, depending on the geographic location and teacher-connections, players (in the US) were either informed or uninformed. Over the years, the “E-sharp branch” has become way more prevalent!

      I’m looking forward to “hunting around” to see what else I can find out. What do the French players do? I have no idea.

  3. Barry McVinney - August 10, 2014 12:32 pm

    The University of Texas at Austin has Ravel’s original score I believe. I remember looking at that score and the solo briefly while doing research in the early ’90s. It seems I was more enthralled by the handwritten notes about the stage actions than I was in examining the high E or E-sharp. You’re in Texas, That’s a good enough reason to take a day trip to Austin, Aralee, don’t you think?!

    • Aralee Dorough - September 11, 2014 9:51 am

      Hi Barry,
      Thanks for letting me know that! Sounds like a Texas day trip, indeed!

      I’d love to see an original score! What an incredible piece of music–I know I would be awestruck, as well, to see Maurice Ravel’s own handwriting. I WILL GO!

      In the meantime, I’ll just say, with a drawl and a wink,

      “Y’ALL that are out there playing E-sharps are DESECRATING a masterpiece…JUST SAYIN’…”



      You are the winners of the free download of my COLOURS cd. I’ll be sending you each your download code via e-mail!!!! (Sadly there is no Ravel on it, but there is Debussy…)

      • David - September 18, 2014 6:54 pm

        This is a link to the bibliographic record for the collection which contains Ravel’s manuscript of Daphnis et Chloé at the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin:


        The Lake Collection has many other Ravel primary sources as well: “Ravel’s manuscripts for Daphnis et Chloë, Gaspard de la nuit, L’heure espagnol, Introduction et allegro, Ma mère l’oye, Rapsodie espagnol, Shéhérazade, the piano trio, and Valses nobles et sentimentales, in addition to numerous songs.”

        What a collection!

      • Catherine Baker - September 26, 2014 12:08 pm

        Thanks, Aralee :) I didn’t quite receive the download link – maybe I missed it. Is there a chance that you could send it again?

        This blog is a wonderful resource to get the mind to think about musicality – thank you for this.

  4. Karleigh Dansby - August 10, 2014 8:37 pm

    I’ve learned to play the Daphnis scale with both the E-natural and E#. My teacher always said that being able to do both in the event of an audition was a sign of versatility. Personally, I like the E# version. :)

    • Aralee Dorough - September 11, 2014 9:32 am

      Dear Karleigh,

      Learning to play it both ways is really the best advice. As an orchestral player, or aspiring one, be prepared to meet the request of any conductor, in rehearsal or in an auction situation.

      As a student, I found the scale with the E-natural to be much more difficult to play smoothly…in fact, very difficult, scary, even…so I practiced it that way 95% of the time. I reasoned I could easily switch to E-sharp if ordered to, but not the other way around.

      Oddly enough, no one seems to notice the E-natural or E-sharp. When it comes right down to it, it goes by so quickly. (What’s in a note???!!!!) Woodwind players—meaning, on audition committees—have little interest in pedantic discussions of whose teacher said what about a note. That’s why I said it is not a “deal breaker”—they are listening for major issues on Daphnis: intonation, sound, expression.

  5. Matt - September 16, 2014 10:27 am

    Gary Kvistad lists his windchimes “Of Olympos” as the pentatonic D, Eb, G, A, Bb, claiming a Greek source for it. I think if Ravel were to use such a sound, he’d use it early and often, rather than in a single passage.


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