I'm trying to learn this amazing piece. Bar 14 has time signature 5/8 in my edition changing to 6/8 3/4 at bar 16; bar 99 has time signature 6/8 3/4. Obviously bars 99-100 are restating the theme from 14-15 in a different key, and are otherwise identical. To interpret the earlier bars in 5/8, one has to interpret the last three eighth notes as a triplet, I guess? And at 99 they are regular eighth notes?

My question is, did Ravel make a mistake signing bars 14-15 in 5/8? Did he really intend 6/8?


Actually, the time signature in m.14 appears to be a proofing mistake in the E. Demets first edition that has propagated to various reissues. The Alfred critical edition of 1999 (Nancy Bricard, ed.) has 6/8 (3/4) for that measure as well. The Alfred edition referenced the manuscript as well as Eschig editions up to 1991.

You might want to cross-compare your Demets or Eschig edition (same company - Demets became Max Eschig et cie) against the Musytschna Ukraina edition on IMSLP. This Soviet edition appears to incorporate at least some corrections.

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  • I've been going with 6/8 for both; playing the three eighth note figure as a triplet, especially with all the 32nd quintuplet ornamentation around it, just sounds rushed. – Judge Mental Nov 5 '15 at 21:27
  • I'm not surprised. Evidently 6/8 is what it should be. – user16935 Nov 5 '15 at 21:52

Ravel, Noctuelles, bars 14-15

I would say it's really a 5/8 at bars 14-15, because there is the same musical idea at other places, like in 27-28 (two identical bars, and in each one a descending 3/8 and a ascending 2/8), and for these bars there are no ambiguity:

Ravel, Noctuelles, bars 27-28

I think the mistake is at bar 99, I would play it as a 5/8 too. Maybe you could check in other editions.

About playing those 5/8, I think you should focus on the tune (in this case, the highest notes), and just make the left hand follow what the right hand does. In both 5/8 and 6/8 points of view, the rhythm doesn't fit (because we would need 15 hemidemisemiquavers, i.e. 3 groups of 5 notes, instead of the 10 we have), so I would not over-think it.

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  • Thank you for your detailed answer. I think you're right that whatever time signature, both occurrences should be played the same way, and also that the time in this piece isn't super strict. – Judge Mental Nov 5 '15 at 14:42

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