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 Label Catalog #
    2018 ECM B002877302
    2018 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 18018
    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 Produktion ARS 38146
    2014 Three Oranges Recordings 3OR 16
    2014 Three Oranges Recordings
    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 NBD 0034
    2013 Naxos 8572888
    2013 Arts Music 477638
    2013 Decca 4785093
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099993447
    2013 Genuin GEN 13262
    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 468 199-2
    2011 Hyperion CDA 67731
    2011 Pierian 0043
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 4779523
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099902831428
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 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
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099923767
    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 Ondine ODE1095-2
    2007 Universal Classics & Jazz
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon
    2006 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 Music Distribution 76850
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Brilliant 6884
    2005 Harmonia Mundi 907406
    2004 Ongaku 024106
    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 Chandos 10142
    2003 Bayer Records 100344/5
    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 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 Erato / Virgin 7243561489
    1998 MusicMasters 67172
    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 Conifer 51755
    1995 Connoisseur Society 4195
    1995 Naxos 553008
    1995 BIS 666
    1994 Music & Arts CD-817
    1994 Denon Records 78908
    1994 Chandos 7004
    1994 Sony Music Distribution 53528
    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
    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
    Meridian Records 84207
    Solstice Records 122
    Koch Schwann 367442
    EMI Music Distribution 56239
    Elan Recordings 2232
    Tzar
    Virgin Classics 62363
    Fone 0214
    Memoria 999001