The scenario was adapted by Michel Fokine from a romance by the Greek writer Longus thought to date from around the third century AD. It concerns the love between a goatherd and a shepherdess. It is in one act and three scenes.
Ravel began work on the score in 1909 after a commission from Serge Diaghilev. It was premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris by his Ballets Russes on June 8, 1912. The orchestra was conducted by Pierre Monteux, the choreography was by Michel Fokine, and Vaslav Nijinsky danced the part of Daphnis.
The work is written for a large orchestra, and includes a part for wordless chorus. When Diaghilev took the ballet to London in 1914, he omitted the chorus, which prompted Ravel to send an angry letter to The Times newspaper (see editions of June 9, 10 and 17).
At almost an hour long, Daphnis et Chloé is Ravel's longest work. He extracted music from the ballet to make two orchestral suites, the second of which is particularly popular. The full score is itself performed more often in concerts than it is staged.
Ravel wrote a number of other works which ended up as ballets. He orchestrated his piano suite Ma mère l'oye for a ballet, his famous Bolero, now a popular orchestral showpiece, was originally written as a dance piece, and he also contributed to the collaborative ballet L'eventail de Jeanne.