Monday, February 4, 2008

Pictures at an Exhibition

It was Feruary 1874 when Mussorgsky visited an exhibition of the paintings of his newly deceased friend, Viktor Alexandrovich Hartmann (1834-1873), the Russian artist and architect. Impressed by most of the watercolours, Modest composed the famous suite, Pictures at an Exhibition, for piano solo. The music is considered a showpiece for virtuoso pianists; however, it is so gorgeous that has been arranged for orchestra many times by many musicians so far. The arrangement by Ravel is the most often performed and recorded. Most of the paintings inspired by the great composer are lost; either yet undiscovered or, sadly, destroyed by time.

Mussorgsky uses and repeats a theme that represents the movements of the visitor from one picture to the next. This is just like leitmotiv used by Wagner or idee fixe used by Berlioz in his fantastic unique symphony to show a specific idea repeating all the time. Mussorgsky calls it Promenade. It’s generally in b-flat major key, with alternating 5/4 and 6/4 rhythms. The melody is melancholic, showing the musician’s deep grief for his gone friend.

Video part 1
Promenade (0:24 to 2:05)

Picture No. 1: The Gnome (2:05 to 4:40)
In e-flat major with a 3/4 timing, shows a little gnome, clumsily running with crooked legs.

Promenade (4:40 to 5:38)

Picture No. 2: The Old Castle (5:38 to end)
In g-sharp minor with a 6/8 rhythm, shows a medieval castle and a troubadour singing in front of it. This is said to be a Hartmann’s watercolour of an Italian castle.

Video part 2
Promenade (0:00 to 0:35)

Picture No. 3: Tuileries (0:35 to 1:36)
In b major 4/4, shows the gardens of Tuileries around the castle at the centre of Paris. The original painting only shows an empty garden but, for musical purposes, Mussorgsky added to the image children chattering and playing in the garden.

Picture No. 4: Cattle (1:36 to 4:12)
In g-sharp minor with a 2/4 rhythm, shows a Polish cart moving on enormous wheels.

Promenade (4:12 to 5:00)

Picture No. 5: Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells (5:00 to 6:16)
In f major with a 2/4 timing, the original work by Hartmann is a set decoration design for a ballet. The original work was Tribly Ballet scored by Julius Gerber and choreographed by Petipa performed in 1870.

Picture No. 6: Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle (6:16 to end)
In b-flat minor 4/4, this picture is sometimes called Two Polish Jews, but the title provided above is the one as seen in the original Mussorgsky’s manuscripts. These were 2 separate paintings by Hartmann combined in one single musical movement.

Video part 3
Picture No. 7: The Market at Limoges (0:00 to 1:30)
In e-flat major with a 4/4 rhythm, shows women quarreling in a market in Limoges, a city in central France.

Picture No. 8: The Catacombs (1:30 to end)
In b minor 3/4 (largo) and then in b minor 6/8 (andante), shows the artist (Hartmann) examining the Paris catacombs by the light of a lantern.

Video part 4
Picture No. 9: The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (0:00 to 2:58)
In c minor 2/4, shows a clock in the form of Baba Yaga’s hut on fowl’s legs. Baba Yaga is, in Slavic folklore, the wild witch and mistress of magic.

Promenade (2:58 to 4:05)

Picture No. 10: Great Gate of Kiev (4:05 to end)
In e-flat major with a 4/4 time, shows Bogatyrs, heroes in Russian epics and a sketch of a monumental gate designed by Hartmann but never built.

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