Gaspard de la nuit: Trois poèmes pour piano d'après Aloysius Bertrand is a piece for solo piano by Maurice Ravel. It has three movements, each based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand. The work was premiered on January 9, 1909 in Paris by Ricardo Viñes.
The piece is famous for its incredible difficulty, partly due to the fact that Ravel intended the Scarbo movement to be more difficult than Balakirev's Islamey. Because of its technical difficulty and profound musical structure, it is popularly considered to be one of the most difficult solo piano pieces in the standard repertoire.
The manuscript currently resides in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of The University of Texas at Austin.
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."
Ondine is an oneiric tale of a water fairy singing to seduce the observer and accompany her to visit her kingdom deep at the bottom of the lake in the triangle of water, fire and earth. It is reminiscent of the tinkling of the water in a stream, woven with cascades. This movement was intended to describe the water sprite in Aloysius Bertrand's poem, attempting to lure men into her domain. This piece contains technical problems for the right hand such as the fast repetition of three-note chords.
Le Gibet, an eerie work in which the observer wonders at the scene he's witnessing. "It is a bell tinting at the walls of a city under the horizon and the carcass of a hanged man reddened by the setting sun". Throughout the entire piece is a B-flat octave ostinato, imitative of the tinting bells, that must remain distinctive and constant in tone as notes cross over and dynamics change.
Scarbo, a small fiend — half goblin, half ghost — making pirouettes, disappearing and scaring a person in his home. Scarbo could stand for "scarabée", a beetle. Its uneven flight, hitting and scratching against the panels of the bed, casting a growing shadow under the moonlight creates a nightmarish scene for the observer lying in his bed. With its repeated notes and two terrifying climaxes, this movement is the high-point of technical difficulty of the three movements. It gives an impression of the fiendish mischief committed by a ghostly imp during the night, fading in and out of vision while changing forms, which is portrayed in the difficult crescendos. Technical difficulties include repeated notes in both hands, and tricky double-note scales in major seconds in the right hand.
Marius Constant orchestrated the piece in 1988.
References in Popular Culture
Manchester band Oceansize used a repeated quote from Le Gibet as the basis for a track called "Unravel" which appears on the 2003 album Effloresce.