top of page

Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit (Mateusz Borowiak)

1. Origins

Having chosen three of the poems from Aloysius Bertrand's Gaspard de la Nuit, fantaisies à la manière de Rembrandt et de Callot (1836, pub. post. 1842), Ravel composed his own Gaspard de la Nuit (1908), premiered by Ricardo Viñes in Paris (1909). Said Ravel, "Gaspard has been a devil in coming, but that is only logical since it was he who is the author of the poems. My ambition is to say with notes what a poet expresses with words." The frontispiece of the first 1842 edition is seen below.

From Jeux d'eau in 1905 to Gaspard three years later, we can see a development of technical demand which was already at high levels and has gone into infintiely higher. The contrasts in the three movements, a kind of moodiness which is invoked by the strong imagery of the poems, are built by a genuis of imagination and Chopinesque understanding of the capabilities of the piano.

The following article, written by Sta senior English/Writing major Alexander Eccles, explores the history and fascination pianists have with the work, taking into account its scope as a whole as well as its individual movements (

2. Performance

A pianist of stupendous facility with a growing international reputation, Mateusz Borowiak (see biography) performed Gaspard de la Nuit at the Queen Elisabeth International Piano Competition in Brussels, Belgium, in 2013. Here are some words from Mr. Borowiak on the work itself:

"Ravel wanted to challenge Balakirev's Islamey, which was considered the hardest piece of its time. So he wrote Gaspard. It is not a bravura, "showy" piece like Islamey, instead it concentrates on control of tone-colour and evocation.


The Ondine presents a challenge right from the start, where the right hand (and later both hands) has to maintain the flittering accompaniment which consists of quick repeated chords and single notes, in a very quiet dynamic. You are at the mercy of the piano's well-regulated repetition mechanism. The effect of the piece relies on supreme evenness of the accompaniment, even when it moves to the left hand, swerving round the main melodic notes.

Le Gibet

In le Gibet, the challenge is to maintain the repeated Bb octave (symbolising the swaying of the hanging corpse) uniform, despite what happens around it. Occasionally the Bb coincides with an element of a chord, a bass note of a chord, sometimes hands need to leap several octaves while maintaining the ostinato. Perhaps an interesting thing about Le Gibet is that all three pedals have to be used at once (left foot on the two left pedals), to maintain the Bb independently from the rest of the texture.


Scarbo is famously difficult for the agility needed to move rapidly between textures. Rapid repeated notes, irregularities, thick harmonic writing demanding extremely short articulation makes for a very busy time."

Mateusz Borowiak

On Facebook:

On YouTube:

Mateusz Borowiak is a graduate of Cambridge University and the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice where he studied under Professor Andrzej Jasiński. He is a recipient of several awards including 3rd prize and Musique Audience Prize at the Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition in Brussels (2013), Gold Medal and 1st prize, prize for the youngest finalist and prize for the best performer of the music of Isaac Albéniz at the 57th Maria Canals International Piano Competition in Barcelona (2011), 1st prize and Audience Award at the 21st Rina Sala Gallo International Piano Competition in Monza (2010), 1st Prize at the Yamaha Music Foundation of Europe Piano Competition (2011), the Contemporary Prize at the 19th Cleveland International Piano Competition (2011), the Harriet Cohen Memorial Award (2010), 1st prize for keyboard at the Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition in London (2006) and the Gawon International Music Society Award in Seoul (2014).

He has performed as soloist in venues such as Barbican, Cadogan and Birmingham Symphony halls, Palais des Beaux-Arts (Brussels), Salle Cortot, Kulturkreis Gasteig, The Guildhall, Real Academia de España, Żelazowa Wola – Chopin’s birthplace, Wiener Saal Mozarteum, Sejong Arts Center (Seoul), Snape Maltings, Concertgebouw (Bruges), West Road Concert Hall (Cambridge), Salle Gothique, Wigmore Hall, Auditorio Nacional de Música (Madrid), Flagey, Royal Łazienki Palace, Purcell Room, Atma, NOSPR, L’Auditori Barcelona, Palau Nacional, Albert Long Hall (Istanbul), Adán Martín Auditorio, Auditorio Nacional de Musica (Madrid), Liszt Hall (Budapest), L’Auditori Manuel de Falla, Beijing National Centre for Performing Arts, Shanghai Symphony Hall and the Great Shostakovich Hall (St Petersburg); in festivals including Oestbelgien Festival, King’s Lynn Festival, Royal City of Kraków Piano Festival, Lower Machen Festival, Isaac Albéniz Festival de Camprodon, the Northern Aldborough Festival, the 69th International Chopin Festival in Duszniki, Stratford on Avon Festival, Katowice Culture Nature Festival, St Petersburg International Winter Festival Arts Square, Rubinstein Piano Festival, Festival Isaac Albeniz de Camprodon, the 45th and 46th Polish Pianist Festivals, Cambridge Festival; and in the Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovakia, Ukraine and the US.

He has performed with orchestras and ensembles including Royal Philharmonic, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, London Mozart Players, Orchestre National de Belgique, Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Orquestra Sinfònica del Vallès, European Union Chamber Orchestra, Silesian Chamber Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra, Sinfonietta Cracovia, London Octave, Orchestre Royal de Chambre de Wallonie, NOSPR, Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa, Białystok, Częstochowa, Łódź, Jelenia Góra and Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestras, Silesian Philharmonic, Pomeranian Philharmonic, Sinfonia Baltica, Silesian String Quartet, Orquestra Ciudad de Granada and Orquesta Sinfònica de Tenerife. Conductors he has worked with include Marin Alsop, Andrey Boreyko, Edo de Waart, Hans Graf, Michael Hofstetter, Martin André, Kenneth Woods, Paul Bateman, Massimiliano Caldi, Salvador Brotons, Alan Buribayev, Guillermo García Calvo, Tomasz Bugaj, Michał Klauza, Joseph Swensen, Alexander Liebreich, Tadeusz Strugała, Mirosław Błaszczyk and Eivind Aadland.

Many of his concerts have been broadcast by TV and radio stations in Europe, the US and New Zealand. His first CD of Louis Pelosi’s Thirteen Preludes and Fugues was released by KASP Records, New York in October 2012. CD releases in 2014 include ‘Mateusz Borowiak Live at the Queen Elisabeth Competition 2013’ and 15 Keyboard Sonatas by Antonio Soler, by Naxos Records.

Featured Posts
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page