Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel)

by Max Derrickson

Modest Mussorgsky  (1839-1881)

Pictures at an Exhibition (orchestrated by Maurice Ravel)

Victor Alexandrovich Hartmann was a Russian artist and a staunch supporter of the Nationalistic artistic movement that sought to create Russian art in a glorious and contemporary light. A year after his death in 1873 at the age of 39, a commemorative exhibition of his works was shown.

Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was another member of the Russian Nationalist school and a close friend of Hartmann’s. When the exhibition was held, Mussorgsky had the simple but breathtaking idea of linking the images together musically in a suite by creating a promenade theme suggesting the viewer moving through the gallery between pictures.
[. . .]

Mussorgsky is at times left in the shadows of the 19th century Russian repertoire. Certainly his friend Rimsky-Korsakov was more prolific and was internationally famous in his lifetime.
[. . .]
But among his circles, and in a broadening admiration from his operatic success with Boris Godunov, Mussorgsky was greatly admired for his Russian realism and raw talent. His early death from alcohol abuse cut short a creative voice in which many had a tremendous belief.

Pictures at an Exhibition is one such piece that exemplifies Mussorgsky’s originality and creativity. It might be hard to imagine this piece for piano alone, yet in that medium it is undeniably an artistic masterpiece.
[. . .]

A brief summary of the works follows: Gnomus is a wooden nutcracker fashioned into jaws of a grotesque face.   Il vecchio castello
[. . .]
The Great Gate of Kiev is a fantastic and fanciful old Slavonic style arch with a bell tower and colorful mosaics. Mussorgsky here musically represents a procession of penitents passing through the gate under the symbolized glory of old Russia.