OF GEORGE ENESCU’S “CARILLON NOCTURNE”
Photo source: https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/composing-for-carillon/
In 1916, George Enescu (1881-1955) composed an
extraordinary sonic x-ray of bell sounds. The last
of the seven “Pieces impromptues” that make up his Suite
No. 3 for piano, “Carillon Nocturne” constitutes a
breakthrough for piano technique and a milestone in the
development of timbre consciousness (“spectral music”).
Suite No. 3, Op. 18 (Pièces impromptues)
No. 1, Mélodie
No. 2, Voix de la Steppe
No. 3, Mazurka Mélancolique
No. 4, Burlesque
No. 5, Appassionato
No. 6, Choral
No. 7, Carillon Nocturne
With complex timbres changing over the course of their
sustained sounding, bells have fascinated listeners
since their invention. Despite enormous advances
following the advent of computers, timbre and its
complex psychoacoustic effects are still not well
understood, and so those instruments of effervescent
timbres par excellence - bells and gongs - retain their
mystical force upon us today.
Landmarks along the history of bell experience include
the 64 double-pitched bronze bells made in 433 B.C.E.
(unearthed in 1978) for the Marquis Yi of Zeng, China;
the extraordinary craftsmanship required to make bells
for religious purposes (unforgettably portrayed in the
last episode of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Andrei
Rublov); the gongs of China and southeast Asia;
compositions by modern composers such as Dane Rudhyar,
Giacinto Scelsi (String Quartet No. 1), Jonathan Harvey
(“Moruos plango, vivos voco”), and James Tenney (“Having
Never Written a Note for Percussion”); and a vast number
of imitations, either evocative or realistic, on
keyboard instruments at least since the
Renaissance. Composers of the latter include
William Byrd (“The Bells”), Franz Liszt (“Die Glocken
von Genf”), and Claude Debussy (“Cloches a travers les
It was Enescu, though, who figured out how to create
more realistic bell timbres on the piano, by specifying
which notes of a chord should be struck more lightly
than the others, in “Carillon Nocturne” of 1916.
Previously, he had evoked bells less realistically in
his Suite No. 2, op. 10 “Des cloches sonores,” of
1903. At the time of his death, Enescu thought
that his Suite No. 3 had been lost; it was rediscovered
in the late 1950s. “Carillon Nocturne” seems to be
enjoying a groundswell of recognition in the wake of
lauds from Iancu Dumitrescu, insightful analysis by
Tibor Szasz (“Secrets of Carillon Nocturne,” on YouTube,
with article), and a new recording every year since
2015, on some of the finest pianos in the world.
The tempo is especially important for enhancing the play
of living timbres in “Carillon Nocturne.” Enescu
calls for “moderato, non troppo lento” (moderate,
not too slow), and does not indicate any metronome
markings. Also important is the type of pedals
available to the pianist, with different instruments
offering different types of timbral shading. Piano
manufacturers stopped including a moderator pedal in the
early 20th century; that pedal softened the dynamics by
inserting felt between the hammer and the three strings
of a given pitch. The soft pedal on more recent
instruments, on the other hand, lowers the volume by
shifting the hammer so that it strikes only two of a
pitch’s three strings.
The “bell-ography” (sessionography) below lists all of
the recordings of “Carillon Nocturne” that I could
find. I indicate the piano manufacturer if known,
and the timing (actual if heard, printed on the album if
I could not access the recording). Some engineers
seem to fade out the recording, while others allow us to
hear the pianist’s final release of the pedal. The
shortest performance is 4:53 (by Aurora Ienei), and the
longest 9:41 (Daniel Ciobanu). These recordings
encompass a broad spectrum of performers, instruments,
and tempi, offering kaleidoscopic illuminations of this
beautiful, pioneering, and profound evening bell of the
Recording date (year-month-day). Performer. [Duration,
italicized if not confirmed]. Piano (if known).
Publication year, Album title, Publisher + Catalogue
1958. Ion Filionescu. [38:26 for whole
Suite; not heard]. 2015, Interpretări istorice din
Arhiva, Editura Casa Radio.
?. Nicolae Caravia. [not heard]. 1967, Sonata
Nr.3 Pentru Pian/Suita Nr.3 Pentru Pian Op.18,
1973. Dan Grigore. [5:54 5:43 not
heard]. 2001 The Art of Dan Grigore (V)-Enescu,
Editura Casa Radio. 2019 Arta lui Dan Grigore.
George Enescu, Editura Casa Radio.
1981-01. Aurora Ienei. [4:53]. 1981, George
Enescu–Suita Nr. 3 Pentru Pian Op. 18 (Pièces
Impromptues) / Preludiu Și Fugă, Electrecord ST-ECE
01643. No date, George Enescu–Integrala Suitelor
Pentru Pian, Electrecord ST-ECE 01643-01803. 2005 George
Enescu, Suita Nr.1 Pentru Pian Op.3 "În Stil Vechi",
Suita Nr.2 Pentru Pian Op.10, Suita Nr.3 Pentru Pian
"Pièces Impromptues", Electrecord EDC-664.
1986. Arnold Schalker. [6:51]. 1987, Music
for Piano Inspired by Bells, Tudor LP 73047, CD 716.
1994 or 1995. Cristian Petrescu.
[6:41]. Steinway. 2004, Enesco: Oeuvres pour piano,
Accord 476-2394 (3CD).
?. Andrew Rangell. [6:31]. 1996, A
Recital of Intimate Works. Dorian DIS-80147.
1998-09-11?. Tibor Szasz. [5:37]. Steinway-modern.
2012, YouTube, “ENESCO Carillon nocturne No. 7 from Pièces
impromptues op. 18 Tibor Szász.” Note: the same recording
was posted three times, giving contradictory dates of
1988-09-11 and 1998-09-11.
2000-04. Dana Ciocarlie. [6:57]. Steinway. 2000,
Romania: Enescu, Constantinescu, Bartok,
l’empreinte digitale ED-13122.
?. Daniel Goiţi. [6:57]. 2000, Daniel
Goiţi plays music by Liszt, Scriabin, Rachmaninov,
Enescu, and Ravel, Symposium 1277.
2003-03-23. Luiza Borac. [6:30].
Steinway Model D. 2003, George
Enescu: The Three Piano Suites, Avie Records AV0013.
?. Daniel Goiţi. [8:06]. Steingraeber
E-272 (based on 1895 model). 2006, Rumänische
Klaviermusik, Cavalli Records CCD-142.
2008-09. Matei Varga. [6:19].
2010, George Enescu: Piano Sonata No. 1 / Suite No. 2,
Naxos Records 8.572120.
2009-11. Ewa Kupiec. [6:34]. 2011,
Imaginary Landscapes: Enescu, Kodaly, Solaris Records
2013-01. Raluca Stirbat. [5:52].
Go-Between/Zwischen Tanz und Traum, Gramola. 2015,
George Enescu: Complete Works for Piano Solo,
Hänssler Classic 98-060 3CD.
?. Anne de Fornel. [5:22]. Pleyel 1892.
2015, Vers la vie nouvelle (Les Musiciens et la Grande
Guerre, disque 17), Hortus 717.
?. Josu de Solaun. [6:50]. 2016, Complete
Works for Solo Piano-1, GP705. 2018, Complete
Works for Solo Piano, Grand Piano GP751X 3CD.
?. Sina Kloke. [6:06]. Steinway concert
Grand Piano D, 1901 #100398 ”Manfred Bürki.” 2017, George
Enescu: Piano Works, MDG 904 2039-6 SACD
?. Thomas Stumpf. [6:46]. 2017, Reflections
on Time and Mortality, Albany TROY1659-60.
2017-08. Mara Dobrescu. [6:04]. 2018, Soleils
de Nuit, Paraty PTY107159.
?. Andrew Rangell. [6:59]. Steinway.
2018, From the Early 20th. . ., Steinway &
2018-09-21 to 22. Saskia Giorgini.
[5:56]. Bösendorfer. 2019, Enescu: Piano Sonata
Op.24, Suite Op.18, Piano Classics
2019-04-05. Daniel Ciobanu. [8:09]. C.
Bechstein. 2019-11-21, “Daniel Ciobanu performs George
Enescu's Carillon Nocturne,” YouTube.
2020-05. Daniel Ciobanu. [9:41]. 2020, Daniel
Ciobanu, Accentus ACC30515.