Gaspard de la nuit, subtitled "Three Poems after Aloysius Bertrand," takes as its inspiration Bertrand´s collection of medieval tales, which the author claimed were whispered to him in the night by the devil, Gaspard. Ravel, in his own words, set out to write something that would be “more difficult than [Balakirev’s] Islamey”.
The resulting suite forever changed the technical landscape of keyboard music. Each of the pieces is prefaced by one of Bertrand’s poems.
The first, Ondine, portrays a water nymph singing to seduce a mortal man to visit her kingdom at the bottom of a lake. Le Gibet suggests “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 bell is the B-flat octave that sounds continuously throughout the piece.
Finally, Scarbo gives an impression of the fiendish mischief committed by a ghostly night-dwarf, fading in and out of vision while changing forms, and finally disappearing without a trace.