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by Robert F. Reigle


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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 feuilles”).

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 piano universe.


Recording date (year-month-day). Performer. [Duration, italicized if not confirmed]. Piano (if known). Publication year, Album title, Publisher + Catalogue number.

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, Electrecord ECE-0272.
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 Solo6110.
2013-01. Raluca Stirbat. [5:52]. Steinway. 2013, 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 Stereo/5.1/2+2+2.
?. 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 & Sons STNS-30100.
2018-09-21 to 22. Saskia Giorgini. [5:56].  Bösendorfer. 2019, Enescu: Piano Sonata Op.24, Suite Op.18, Piano Classics PCL10184.    
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.


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