Maurice Ravel – Gaspard de la nuit

“Gaspard de la nuit: Trois poèmes pour piano d’après Aloysius Bertrand” is a suite of pieces for solo piano, composed in 1908 by Maurice Ravel. It has three movements, each based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand, and it was premiered on January 9, 1909, in Paris by Ricardo Viñes. The name “Gaspard” is derived from its original Persian form, denoting “the man in charge of the royal treasures”: “Gaspard of the Night” or the treasurer of the night thus creates allusions to someone in charge of all that is jewel-like, dark, mysterious, perhaps even morose. “Gaspard de la nuit” is an old French expression for the Devil.

1. “Ondine”: an oneiric tale of a water fairy singing to seduce the observer into visiting her kingdom deep at the bottom of a lake. It is reminiscent of Ravel’s early piano masterpiece, the Jeux d’eau (1901), with the sounds of water falling and flowing, woven with cascades. This piece contains technical problems for the right hand such as the fast repetition of three-note chords.

2. “Le gibet”: the observer is presented with a view of the desert, where the lone corpse of a hanged man on a gibbet stands out against the horizon, reddened by the setting sun; the sound of a bell tolls from inside the walls of a far-off city, creating the deathly atmosphere that surrounds the observer. Throughout the entire piece is a B-flat octave ostinato, imitative of the tolling bell, that must remain distinctive and constant in tone as the notes cross over and dynamics change.

3. “Scarbo”: this movement depicts the nighttime mischief of a small fiend or goblin, making pirouettes, flitting in and out of the darkness, disappearing and suddenly reappearing. Its uneven flight, hitting and scratching against the walls, casting a growing shadow in the moonlight, creates a nightmarish scene for the observer lying in his bed. With its repeated notes and two terrifying climaxes, this is the high point of technical difficulty of the three movements. Technical difficulties include repeated notes in both hands, and double-note scales in major seconds in the right hand.

Pianist: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet

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