Maurice Ravel

Gaspard de la nuit, for piano, M. 55

    Description by Blair Johnston

    Though competent at the piano, Ravel was no virtuoso; so, when he set out to compose a work for the instrument that would be, in his own words, "more difficult than [Balakirev's] Islamey," he drew heavily on the brilliant pianistic style of Franz Liszt to fulfill his ambition. The resulting three-part suite, Gaspard de la nuit (1908), forever changed the technical landscape of keyboard music. Perhaps pianist Alfred Cortot put it best when he called the work "one of the most extraordinary examples of instrumental ingenuity which the industry of composers has ever produced."

    Gaspard de la nuit, subtitled "Three Poems after Aloysius Bertrand," takes as its inspiration Bertrand's same-titled 1842 collection of medieval tales, which the author claimed were whispered to him in the night by the devil, Gaspard. Each of the pieces in Ravel's suite is prefaced by one of the poems; no doubt the same macabre streak that led Ravel to spend many nights absorbed in the stories of Edgar Allen Poe is also responsible for the composer's powerful attraction to Bertrand's rather dark work. Gaspard was premiered in January 1909 by pianist Ricardo Viñes, who had introduced Ravel to Bertrand's work.

    Each of the three pieces of the suite, "Ondine," "Le Gibet," and "Scarbo," presents not only an individual assortment of pianistic demands but also a unique musical language and narrative vision. In the first piece Ravel undertakes the portrayal of the water nymph Ondine's seduction of a mortal man. Shimmering C sharp major figuration soon becomes the background for a transparent melodic strand marked très doux et très expressif (very soft and expressive). The fluid background pauses only once during "Ondine" -- for a brief pianissimo Très lent that precedes the final, quicksilver cadenza.

    "Le Gibet" (The Gibbet) is a musical horror story of such textural density that Ravel notated nearly all of the piece on three staves. An extract from the preface of the corresponding poem provides some idea of the musical atmosphere: "It is the bell sounding from the walls of a city far away below the horizon, and the carcass of a dead man hanging from a gibbet, reddened by the setting sun." Ravel's "bells" are the slightly irregularly grouped B flats that sound continuously throughout the piece, around which the composer weaves music of total psychological suspense. The dynamic never exceeds piano, and Ravel demands that the performer play "without expression" for the last portion of the piece.

    "Scarbo" is 19 pages of some of the most frightful digital difficulties ever devised. Scarbo himself is a somewhat malicious night-dwarf who comes, laughing, to horrify, and then disappears without a trace. Here Ravel places the greatest emphasis on his singular sense of rhythm; witness the perfectly placed pauses throughout. Rapid repeated notes, wild arpeggiations, and sudden shifts of texture and dynamics are among the hurdles pianists must overcome; a famous passage in parallel seconds seems to owe its existence to the composer's own peculiarly double-jointed thumb, and is therefore quite challenging for those without such a physical anomaly. After a tremendous triple-fortissimo climax, the music dissolves into impish pianissimo thirty-second notes.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Ondine
    2. Le gibet
    3. Scarbo

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2019
    Simax Classics
    PSC 1366
    2019
    Coviello Classics
    COV 91910
    2018
    ECM
    B002877302
    2018
    Onyx / Onyx Classics
    ONYX 4204
    2018
    Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler
    PH 18018
    2018
    IBA [Idil Biret Archives]
    8501207
    2018
    Menuetto Classics
    2018
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4835187
    2018
    Farao Classics
    B 108099
    2018
    Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler
    PH 18050
    2017
    Somm
    SOMMCD 0168
    2017
    Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler
    PH 17000
    2017
    Warner Classics
    9029583165
    2017
    Warner Classics
    563837
    2017
    Centaur Records
    CRC 3581/3582
    2017
    Ars Produktion / Ars Produktion
    ARS 38224
    2017
    Orchid Classics
    ORC 100061
    2017
    Warner Classics
    0190295775063
    2016
    IBA [Idil Biret Archives] / Naxos
    8501504
    2016
    Symphonia
    ERM 1004
    2016
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4795978
    2016
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2016
    Belvedere
    BCD 08002
    2016
    Erato
    082564602681
    2016
    Genuin
    GEN 16408
    2016
    Pro Piano
    224531
    2016
    Acousence Classics
    ACOCD 12616
    2016
    Symphonia
    ERM 5014
    2016
    Acousence Classics
    ACOCD 12515
    2016
    Sony Classical
    88875192982
    2015
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4795448
    2015
    Honens
    201502CD
    2015
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4794350
    2015
    Calliope
    CAL 1521
    2015
    Music & Arts
    MACD 1289
    2015
    Capriccio Records
    C 5260
    2015
    Linn / Linn Records
    BKD 523
    2015
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4794647
    2015
    Oehms Classics
    OC 012
    2014
    Belvedere
    BVD 10150
    2014
    Doremi / Doremi Records
    DHR 6029
    2014
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMX 290871015
    2014
    Haenssler / Hänssler
    933180000000
    2014
    Sony Classical
    G010003219251A
    2014
    Alto
    ALC 1279
    2014
    Ars Produktion
    ARS 38146
    2014
    Three Oranges Recordings
    2014
    Three Oranges Recordings
    3OR 16
    2014
    Sony Classical
    888430147621
    2013
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMU 907606
    2013
    Oehms Classics
    423
    2013
    CAvi-music
    AVI 8553422
    2013
    EMI Classics
    2013
    Piano Classics
    PCLD 0055
    2013
    Naxos
    8572888
    2013
    Naxos
    NBD 0034
    2013
    Arts Music
    477638
    2013
    Decca
    4785093
    2013
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099993447
    2013
    Genuin
    GEN 13262
    2012
    Decca
    2012
    CAG
    5638090314
    2012
    Channel Classics
    CCS SA 31612
    2012
    Avie
    AVR 2256
    2012
    Honens
    201103
    2012
    Fuga Libera
    FGL 592
    2012
    Naïve
    V 5284
    2012
    MDG / Zebralution
    2012
    Praga
    DSD 350091
    2012
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099967831
    2012
    Decca
    4783725
    2012
    Decca
    2012
    Northern Flowers
    NFA 9982
    2012
    Warner Classics
    2564660448
    2012
    BIS
    BIS 1828
    2011
    Decca
    001642102
    2011
    Decca
    468 199-2
    2011
    Hyperion
    CDA 67731
    2011
    Pierian
    0043
    2011
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4779523
    2011
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099902831428
    2010
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2010
    Various Artists
    BD Jazz / Zebralution
    2010
    IBA [Idil Biret Archives]
    8571274
    2010
    Denon Records
    2010
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2010
    Arbiter
    158
    2010
    Documents / Membran
    233017
    2010
    Warner Classics
    2010
    Brilliant Classics
    94083
    2010
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2010
    Albany Music Distribution
    1172
    2010
    Decca
    2010
    Decca
    4102552
    2010
    Lyrinx
    2233
    2010
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2010
    Warner Classics
    2010
    MSR Classics
    1233
    2009
    Audite
    21404
    2009
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099926508
    2009
    Stradivarius
    33835
    2009
    Berlin Classics
    0016542
    2009
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099923767
    2009
    EMI Classics
    2009
    Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2009
    UT3 Records / Zebralution
    2009
    EMI Classics
    2009
    Audite
    92571
    2009
    Blue Saphir
    1010
    2009
    MSR Classics
    MS 1333
    2009
    Warner Classics
    4691492
    2008
    Avi
    8553088
    2008
    Klavier Records
    11016
    2008
    BIS
    1580
    2008
    Sony Classical
    88697341452
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    001190702
    2008
    Musicaphon
    56904
    2008
    Brilliant Classics
    9020
    2008
    EMI Music Distribution
    5669052
    2008
    EMI Music Distribution
    4768492
    2008
    Thorofon / Zebralution
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4776656
    2008
    Brilliant Classics
    6980
    2008
    Claves
    2713/18
    2007
    Summit Records
    483
    2007
    Decca
    4758592
    2007
    Decca
    4758499
    2007
    Fabula Classica
    FAB 120512
    2007
    EMI Classics
    385260
    2007
    Transart Live
    143
    2007
    Linn Records
    290
    2007
    Erato
    284668
    2007
    Cmireb / Queen Elisabeth Competition
    QEC 2007
    2007
    Ondine
    ODE1095-2
    2007
    Universal Classics & Jazz
    2007
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2006
    Various Artists
    Direct Source
    5234
    2006
    Eroica Distribution
    3254
    2006
    Golden Melodram
    40080
    2006
    Doremi Records
    71150
    2006
    Warner Classics
    2006
    Decca
    4768499
    2006
    Gramola
    GRAM 98804
    2006
    EMI Music Distribution
    58018
    2006
    Deutsche Grammophon
    000764972
    2006
    Deutsche Grammophon
    000721602
    2006
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2894776156
    2005
    Eroica Distribution
    3221
    2005
    Andante
    2110
    2005
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    2005
    MSR Classics
    1125
    2005
    Cascavelle
    3075
    2005
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    7243586061
    2005
    Warner Classics
    2564 62160-2
    2005
    Connoisseur Society
    4255
    2005
    Ondine
    1051
    2005
    Archipel
    0248
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    EMI Music Distribution
    76850
    2005
    Brilliant
    6884
    2005
    Harmonia Mundi
    907406
    2004
    Divox
    999105
    2004
    Berlin Classics
    0013452BC
    2004
    EMI Music Distribution
    85990
    2004
    ECM
    000303702
    2004
    MDG
    6041190
    2004
    Neuma
    450104
    2003
    Aura Records
    204
    2003
    Deutsche Grammophon
    463 678-2GOR
    2003
    Bayer Records
    100344/5
    2003
    Chandos
    10142
    2003
    Scandinavian Classics
    220509
    2003
    Calliope
    3824/5
    2003
    Harmonia Mundi
    901811/12
    2003
    Accord
    4760941
    2003
    Fabula Classica
    29902
    2003
    Amadeo
    4728322
    2002
    BBC Legends / BBC Music
    40642
    2002
    Ivory Records
    IVCD72009
    2002
    Cascavelle
    3047
    2002
    Musicians Showcase
    MS 1070
    2002
    Naxos
    8555798
    2002
    Hyperion
    67341/2
    2002
    EMI Music Distribution
    74793
    2002
    APR (Appian)
    5593
    2001
    Angel Records / EMI Classics
    57101
    2001
    Tudor Records
    781
    2001
    Ensayo
    9808
    2001
    Classica d'Oro
    3020
    2001
    Sony Music Distribution
    5033892
    2001
    APR (Appian)
    5611
    2000
    Aura Classics
    2000
    2000
    Simax
    1112
    2000
    Orfeo D'Or
    531001
    2000
    Eroica Distribution
    3045
    2000
    Various Artists
    Deutsche Grammophon
    469 184-2GP2
    2000
    Multisonic
    310193
    2000
    Gega
    219
    1999
    Dorian
    93176
    1999
    Aura Classics
    0118
    1999
    Philips
    456817
    1999
    Philips
    462232
    1999
    Philips
    454987
    1999
    EMI Music Distribution
    66957
    1999
    CRD Records
    3384
    1999
    Cembal d'amour
    107
    1999
    Philips
    456715
    1999
    Philips
    456790
    1998
    Philips
    456901
    1998
    Deutsche Grammophon
    459045
    1998
    Deutsche Grammophon
    459 070-2GCC11
    1998
    Philips
    456700
    1998
    Arizona Friends of Ch
    19961
    1998
    MusicMasters
    67172
    1998
    Erato / Virgin
    7243561489
    1998
    Sony Classical
    63316
    1997
    Deutsche Grammophon
    453576
    1997
    New Albion
    NA096CD
    1996
    London
    448618
    1996
    Wergo
    6014050
    1996
    Arbiter
    102
    1996
    Deutsche Grammophon
    447438
    1996
    Ades
    14107
    1996
    Nimbus
    7713
    1995
    Ongaku
    024106
    1995
    Conifer
    51755
    1995
    Connoisseur Society
    4195
    1995
    Naxos
    553008
    1995
    BIS
    666
    1994
    Music & Arts
    CD-817
    1994
    Denon Records
    78908
    1994
    Sony Music Distribution
    53528
    1994
    Chandos
    7004
    1994
    Teldec
    94539
    1994
    Naxos
    550254
    1994
    Decca / London
    440836
    1993
    Reference Recordings
    35
    1993
    Philips
    438353
    1993
    Pearl
    9449
    1993
    Arkadia
    904
    1993
    Titanic
    209
    1992
    London
    433515
    1992
    Vox
    5012
    1992
    Albany Music Distribution
    052
    1992
    Chandos
    8647
    1992
    Vox
    CDX25507
    1984
    Deutsche Grammophon
    413363
    1984
    Hungaroton
    12317
    Labor Records
    Amadeus Speciale
    4243
    Brioso Recordings
    127
    Ermitage
    12001
    Supraphon
    111476
    Panton Records
    10583
    Disques Pierre Verany
    792101
    Various Artists
    BBC Music Magazine
    279
    Aura Music
    204
    Bridge
    MSR Records
    1188
    BBC Legends
    5002
    Decca
    748021
    Virgin
    59322
    Theorema
    121163
    Pavane
    7277
    EMI Music Distribution
    69869
    YDK
    8725
    Classical West, Inc.
    Solstice Records
    84
    Triton
    15
    EMI Music Distribution
    69026
    Warner Music
    Melodiya
    1000657
    REM
    311141
    London
    410255
    Erato
    94826
    Erato
    Calliope
    9824
    Solstice Records
    122
    Meridian Records
    84207
    Koch Schwann
    367442
    EMI Music Distribution
    56239
    Elan Recordings
    2232
    Tzar
    Virgin Classics
    62363
    Fone
    0214
    Memoria
    999001