Today, we will pursue the exploration of my album’s Track list with Ravel’s Le gibet. Very slow, mesmerizing, Le gibet, central piece of Gaspard de la nuit, put the audience in a sort of cataleptic state. Ravel, like in the other pieces of his triptych, challenged himself and wrote a truly fascinating piece. And a damn hard work for the pianist.
Le gibet, what does this mean and what is the piece about? Gibet is the french word for the english gibbet. Le gibet is another poem from Bertrand’s Gaspard de la nuit. Let me reproduce here a translation of this poem:
Could it be some cricket singing from its hiding place in the moss and sterile ivy with which the forest covers its floor out of pity?
Could it be some fly hunting for prey and blowing its horn all around those ears deaf to the fanfare of the mort?
Could it be some cockchafer plucking a bloody hair from his bald scalp in its uneven flight?
Or could it be some spider embroidering a half-ell of muslin as a tie for that strangled neck?
It is the bell ringing in the walls of a city below the horizon, and the carcass of a hanged man reddened by the setting sun.
Once again, Ravel perfectly got the ambiance of the poem and mastered its musical transcription. Let’s focus on the last sentence: It is the bell ringing in the walls of a city below the horizon. The bell is clearly symbolized in the piece by a b flat octave ostinato running from the beginning to the end of the piece. Ravel’s challenge was to keep a pedal point of b flat for 152 bars (the whole piece). He didn’t fail at all and this ostinato is what makes this piece so hypnotic.
The fun part is the rhythm of this ostinato. In a so ecstatic piece, Ravel chose a rhythm of rumba for his ostinato (of course with a little distortion) and you don’t even notice it in this environment. The contrast is indeed funny (the rumba discovery is not from me, but from a friend composer: Steven Berryman). Here are the first three bars of the piece, with the bell pattern in red.
If you have been told there was a rumba in Le Gibet, would you have believed it? I didn’t, I really thought my friend lost it definitively! But when I looked at it closer… I found the rumba element.
Ravel’s music is always full of surprises and you never stop finding new elements in it. That’s a part of why this music is fabulous. No matter how long you’ve been playing it, there is always something you overlooked or missed. And I’m glad of it, because in ten years I still will be amazed by Gaspard de la nuit, and I’ll still have things to discover in it.