Ravel’s Le Gibet fascinates and repulses me; it’s a brilliantly succinct textbook of harmonic possibility, but I’m simultaneously uncomfortable with its extramusical program, which depicts a hanged corpse at sunset. The music luridly romanticizes the already too-picturesque prefatory poem by Aloysius Bertrand, reducing the hanged victim to a scenic backdrop against which the poet projects his disturbed thoughts.
Ravel represents the roles of observed and observer using an asymmetrical ostinato around which a palette of murky, ambiguous chords slowly churns. Old Ground reverses these roles. The opening ostinato is given agency and trajectory; the dark chords, which come in only at the end, accompany a silenced singer.