The suite is Mussorgsky's most famous piano composition, and has become a showpiece for virtuoso pianists. It has become further known through various orchestrations and arrangements produced by other musicians and composers, with Ravel's arrangement being the most recorded and performed.
Viktor Hartmann. Both men were devoted to the cause of an intrinsically Russian art and quickly became friends. Their meeting was likely arranged by the influential critic Vladimir Stasov who followed both of their careers with interest.
Hartmann died from an aneurysm in 1873. The sudden loss of the artist, aged only 39, shook Mussorgsky along with others in Russia's art world. Stasov helped organize an exhibition of over 400 Hartmann works in the Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, Russia in February and March 1874. Mussorgsky lent works from his personal collection to the exhibit and viewed the show in person. Fired by the experience, he composed Pictures at an Exhibition in six weeks. The music depicts an imaginary tour of an art collection. Titles of individual movements allude to works by Hartmann; Mussorgsky used Hartmann as a working title during the work's composition. He described the experience to Stasov in June 1874: "Hartmann is seething as Boris was. Sounds and ideas float in the air and my scribbling can hardly keep pace with them."
Mussorgsky based his musical material on drawings and watercolours by Hartmann produced mostly during the artist's travels abroad. Locales include Poland, France and Italy; the final movement depicts an architectural design for the capital city of Ukraine. Today most of the pictures from the Hartmann exhibit are lost, making it impossible to be sure in many cases which Hartmann works Mussorgsky had in mind. Musicologist Alfred Frankenstein, in a 1939 article for The Musical Quarterly, claimed to have identified seven pictures by catalogue number. Two Jews: Rich, and Poor (Frankenstein suggested two separate portraits, still extant, as the basis for Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuyle), Gnomus, Tuileries (now lost), Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks (a ballet costume design), Catacombae, The Hut on Hen's Legs (Baba Yaga), and The Bogatyr Gates.
Mussorgsky links the suite's movements in a way that depicts the viewer's own progress through the exhibition. Two "Promenade" movements stand as portals to the suite's main sections. Their regular pace and irregular meter depicts the act of walking. Three untitled interludes present shorter statements of this theme, varying the mood, colour and key in each to suggest reflection on a work just seen or anticipation of a new work glimpsed. Mussorgsky wrote to Stasov: "My physiognomy can be seen in the interludes." A turn is taken in the work at the "Catacombae" when the Promenade theme stops functioning as merely a linking device and becomes, in "Cum mortuis", an integral element of the movement itself. The theme reaches its apotheosis in the suite's finale, The Bogatyr Gates.
As with most of Mussorgsky's works, Pictures at an Exhibition has a complicated publication history. Although composed very rapidly (during June 2–22, 1874), the work did not appear in print until 1886 (five years after the composer's death), when an edition by the composer's great friend Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was published. This publication, moreover, was not a completely accurate representation of Mussorgsky's score, but presented an edited and revised text that had been reworked to a certain amount, as well as containing a substantial number of errors and misreadings.
Only in 1931, more than half a century after the work's composition, was Pictures at an Exhibition published in a scholarly edition in agreement with the composer's manuscript. In 1940, the Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola published an important critical edition of Mussorgsky's work with extensive commentary. Mussorgsky's hand-written manuscript was published in facsimile in 1975.
Vladimir Stasov's program, identified below, and the six known extant pictures suggest that the ten pieces comprising the suite correspond to eleven pictures by Hartmann, with Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuÿle accounting for two. The five Promenade movements, consisting of an introduction and four links, are not numbered among the ten pictures. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Promenade movements are untitled in the composer's manuscript.
The enduring popularity of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition lies in the satisfaction it offers both at first hearing and in repeated visits. The variety of invention and distinctive character of each movement appeal at once. Visual motives find vivid aural form: clocks, bells, chants, feathers, flames, climb and descent. The piece rewards additional hearings with new relationships constantly to be discovered. The first two movements of the suite—one grand, one grotesque—find mirrored counterparts, and apotheoses, at the end. The suite traces a journey that begins at an art exhibit, but the line between observer and observed vanishes at the Catacombs when the journey takes on a different character. For all the variety individual movements display in musical invention, each springs from a kernel in the opening melody. The Promenade theme provides distinctive "cells" of two and three notes that generate themes and accompaniment figures throughout the piece.
The recording accompanying this explanation is by the Skidmore College Orchestra and provided courtesy of Musopen.
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Meter: originally 11/4. Published editions alternate 5/4 and 6/4.
Tempo: Allegro giusto, nel modo russico; senza allegrezza, ma poco sostenuto
Stasov comment: In this piece Mussorgsky depicts himself "roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly in order to come close to a picture that had attracted his attention, and at times sadly, thinking of his departed friend."
The melody and rhythm resemble Russian folk songs. The piece has simple, strong rhythms in asymmetrical meter.
No. 1 "Gnomus"(Latin, The Gnome):
Tempo: alternating "Vivo" and "Meno mosso, pesante"
Stasov comment: "A sketch depicting a little gnome, clumsily running with crooked legs."
Hartmann's sketch, now lost, is thought to represent a design for a nutcracker displaying large teeth. The lurching music, in contrasting tempos with frequent stops and starts, suggests the movements of the gnome.
[Untitled] (Interlude, Promenade theme)
Meter: alternating 5/4 and 6/4
Tempo: "Moderato commodo assai e con delicatezza"
A placid statement of the promenade melody depicts the viewer walking from one display to the next.
No. 2 "Il vecchio castello"(Italian, The Old Castle):
Tempo: "Andante molto cantabile e con dolore"
Stasov comment: "A medieval castle before which a troubadour sings a song."
This movement is thought to be based on a watercolor depiction of an Italian castle. Hartmann often placed appropriate human figures in his architectural renderings to suggest scale.
[Untitled] (Interlude, Promenade theme)
Meter: alternating 5/4 and 6/4
Tempo: "Moderato non tanto, pesamente"
Another brief statement of the promenade melody (8 measures) gives it more extroversion and weight than before.
No. 3 "Tuileries" (Dispute d'enfants après jeux)(French, Tuileries (Dispute between Children at Play))
Tempo: "Allegretto non troppo, capriccioso"
Stasov comment: "An avenue in the garden of the Tuileries, with a swarm of children and nurses."
Hartmann's picture of the Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre in Paris (France) is now lost. Figures of children quarrelling and playing in the garden were likely added by the artist for scale (see note on No. 2 above).
The movement is cast in through-composed ternary form (ABA).
No. 4 "Bydło"(Polish, Cattle)
Tempo: Sempre moderato, pesante.
Stasov comment: "A Polish cart on enormous wheels, drawn by oxen."
The movement is cast in through-composed ternary form (ABA) with coda. Mussorgsky's original piano version of this movement begins fortissimo (ff), suggesting that the lumbering oxcart's journey begins in the listener's foreground. After reaching a climax (con tutta forza) the dynamic marking is abruptly piano (bar 47), followed by a diminuendo to a final pianissimo (ppp), suggesting the oxcart receding into the distance. Arrangements based on Rimsky-Korsakov's edition, such as Ravel's, begin quietly, build gradually (crescendo) to fortissimo, and then undergo a diminuendo, suggesting the oxcart approaching, passing the listener, and then receding.
[Untitled] (Interlude, Promenade theme)
Meter: alternating 5/4, 6/4, 7/4
A reflective 10-measure presentation of the promenade theme.
|Sketch of theatre costumes for the ballet|
No. 5 "Балетъ невылупившихся птенцовъ" [Balet nevylupivshikhsya ptentsov]
ART: Sketch of theatre costumes for the ballet - Trilby(Modern Russian: Балет невылупившихся птенцов, Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks)
Meter: 2/4 time
Tempo: "Scherzino (vivo, leggiero)"
Stasov comment: "Hartmann's design for the décor of a picturesque scene in the ballet Trilby."
Gerald Abraham provides the following details: "Trilby or The Demon of the Heath, a ballet with choreography by Petipa, music by Julius Gerber, and décor by Hartmann... produced in 1870. The fledglings were canary chicks."
The movement is cast in ternary form (ABA) with a literal repeat and terse extension (coda).
|The Rich Jew|
|The Poor Jew|
No. 6 "Samuel" Goldenberg und "Schmuÿle"
ART: Jew in a fur cap. Sandomierz
ART: Sandomierz Jew(Yiddish, Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle)
Meter: 4/4 time
Tempo: "Andante. Grave energico" and "Andantino"
Stasov comment: "Two Jews: Rich and Poor" (Russian: Два еврея: богатый и бедный)
Stasov's explanatory title elucidates the personal names used in Mussorgsky's original manuscript. Published versions display various combinations, such as "Two Polish Jews, Rich and Poor (Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle)". The movement is thought to be based on two separate extant portraits.
The use of augmented second intervals approximate Jewish modes such as the Phrygian dominant scale. The movement is in ternary form (A|B|A+B):
- Andante, grave energico (Theme 1 "Samuel Goldenberg")
- Andantino (Theme 2 "Schmuÿle")
- Andante, grave energico (Themes 1 and 2 in counterpoint)
PromenadeKey: B-flat major.
Meter: originally 11/4. Published editions alternate 5/4 and 6/4.
Tempo: Allegro giusto, nel modo russico; poco sostenuto.
A nearly bar-for-bar restatement of the opening promenade. Differences are slight: condensed second half, block chords voiced more fully. Structurally the movement acts as a reboot, giving listeners another hearing of the opening material before these are developed in the second half of the suite. Its appearance at this point in the programmatic narrative suggests that Mussorgsky's exhibition viewer stands in an economic middle ground between the wealth of Goldenberg and the poverty of Schmuÿle.
Many arrangements, including Ravel's orchestral version, omit this movement.
No. 7 "Limoges", le marché (La grande nouvelle)(French, The Market at Limoges (The Great News))
Tempo: Allegretto vivo, sempre scherzando
Stasov comment: "French women quarreling violently in the market."
Limoges is a city in central France. Mussorgsky originally provided two paragraphs in French that described a marketplace discussion (the 'great news'), but soon removed them.
The movement is a scherzo in through-composed ternary form (ABA). A scurrying coda leads without a break into the next movement.
No. 8 "Catacombæ" (Sepulcrum romanum) and "Cum mortuis in lingua mortua"
ART: Paris catacombs(Latin, The Catacombs (Roman sepulcher)) and (Latin, With the Dead in a Dead Language)
(with the figures of V. A. Hartmann, V. A. Kenel, and a guide, holding a lantern)
Note: The original published title's Con mortuis is correctly rendered in Latin as Cum mortuis.
Meter: 3/4 (Sepulcrum) 6/4 (Cum mortuis)
Tempo: "Largo" (Sepulcrum) "Andante non troppo con lamento" (Cum mortuis)
Stasov comment: "Hartmann represented himself examining the Paris catacombs by the light of a lantern."
The movement is in two distinct parts. Its two sections consist of a nearly static Largo consisting of a sequence of block chords, with elegiac lines adding a touch of melancholy, and a more flowing, gloomy "Andante" that introduces the "Promenade" theme into the scene.
The first section's alternating loud and soft chords evoke the grandeur, stillness, and echo of the catacombs. The second section suggests a merging of observer and scene as the observer descends into the catacombs. Mussorgsky's manuscript of The Catacombs displays two pencilled notes, in Russian: "NB – Latin text: With the dead in a dead language" and, along the right margin, "Well may it be in Latin! The creative spirit of the dead Hartmann leads me towards the skulls, invokes them; the skulls begin to glow softly from within."
|The Hut of Baba-Yaga|
No. 9 "Избушка на курьихъ ножкахъ" (Баба-Яга) [Izbushka na kuryikh nozhkakh (Baba-Yagá)]
(Modern Russian: Избушка на курьих ножках (Баба-Яга), The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yagá))
ART: The hut of Baba-Yaga on hen's legs–clock in the Russian Style
Tempo: "Allegro con brio, feroce" and "Andante mosso"
Stasov comment: "Hartmann's drawing depicted a clock in the form of Baba-Yagá's hut on fowl's legs. Mussorgsky added the witch's flight in a mortar."
A scherzo feroce with a slower middle section. Motives in this movement evoke the bells of a large clock and the whirlwind sounds of a chase. Structurally the movement mirrors the grotesque qualities of "Gnomus" on a grand scale. The central andante is one of the more demanding portions of the suite for the pianist, as it features a 16th note triplet tremolo throughout.
The movement is cast in ternary form (ABA):
- Allegro con brio, feroce
- Andante mosso
- Allegro molto (a nearly literal repeat)
|The Bogatyr Gates|
No. 10 "Богатырскія ворота" (Въ стольномъ городѣ Кіевѣ) [Bogatyrskiye vorota (V stolnom gorode Kiyeve)]
ART: Project for a city gate in Kiev–main façade(Modern Russian: Богатырские ворота (В стольном городе во Киеве), The Bogatyr Gates (in the Capital in Kiev))
Tempo: "Maestoso, con grandezza" and broadening to the end.
Stasov comment: "Hartmann's sketch was his design for city gates at Kiev in the ancient Russian massive style with a cupola shaped like a slavonic helmet."
Bogatyrs are heroes that appear in Russian epics called bylinas. The title of this movement is commonly translated as "The Great Gate of Kiev" and sometimes as "The Heroes' Gate at Kiev."
Hartmann designed a monumental gate for Tsar Alexander II to commemorate the monarch's narrow escape from an assassination attempt on April 4, 1866. Hartmann regarded his design as the best work he had done. His design won the national competition but plans to build the structure were later cancelled.
The movement features a grand main theme that exalts the opening promenade much as "Baba Yaga" amplified "Gnomus"; also like that movement it evens out the meter of its earlier counterpart. The solemn secondary theme is based on a baptismal hymn from the repertory of Russian Orthodox chant.
The movement is cast as a broad rondo in two main sections: ABAB|CADA. The first half of the movement sets up the expectation of an ABABA pattern. The interruption of this pattern with new music just before its expected conclusion gives the rest of the movement the feeling of a vast extension. This extended leave-taking acts as a coda for the suite as a whole.
- A Main Theme ("forte") Tempo: "Maestoso"
- B Hymn Theme (piano) (A-flat minor)
- A Main Theme ("forte") Descending and ascending scale figures suggest carillons.
- B Hymn Theme (piano) (E-flat minor)
- C Interlude/Transition [under "forte"]. "Promenade" theme recalled. Suggestions of clockwork, bells, ascent.
- A Main Theme (fortissimo) Triplet figuration. Tempo: Meno mosso, sempre maestoso.
- D Interlude/Transition ("mezzo forte" with crescendo) Triplets.
- A Main Theme (fortissimo) Tempo: Grave, Sempre allargando. Rhythm slows to a standstill by the final cadence.
ARRANGEMENTS AND INTERPRETATIONS
The first musician to arrange Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition for orchestra was the Russian composer and conductor Mikhail Tushmalov. However, his version (first performed in 1891 and possibly produced as early as 1886 when he was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov) does not include the entire suite: Only seven of the ten "pictures" are present, leaving out Gnomus, Tuileries, and Bydło, and all the Promenades are omitted except for the last one, which is used in place of the first.
The next orchestration was that undertaken by the British conductor Henry Wood in 1915. He recorded a few sections of his arrangement on a pair of acoustic Columbia 78rpm discs in 1920. However, he withdrew his version when Maurice Ravel's orchestration was published and banned every public performance in the 1930s in deference to Ravel's superior work. Wood's arrangement has also been recorded by the London Philharmonic under Nicholas Braithwaite and issued on the Lyrita label. It omits all but the first of the Promenade-based movements and features extensive re-composition elsewhere. Wood's orchestration was once described by Gordon Jacob as "superior in picturesqueness to the Ravel", with its off-stage camel-bells in "Bydlo" and grand organ in "The Great Gate of Kiev".
The first person to orchestrate the piece in its entirety was the Slovenian-born conductor and violinist Leo Funtek, who finished his version in 1922 while living and working in Finland.
The version by Maurice Ravel, also produced in 1922, represents a virtuoso effort by a master colourist. The orchestration, commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky, has proved the most popular in the concert hall and on record. Ravel omits the Promenade between "Samuel" Goldenberg und "Schmuÿle" and Limoges and applies artistic license to some particulars of dynamics and notation. Koussevitzky's commission gave him sole conducting rights for several years. He published Ravel's score himself and in 1930 made the first recording of it with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Most arrangements made since Ravel's version are indebted to his choice of instrumental colours. The exclusive nature of his commission, though, prompted the release of a number of contemporary versions by other arrangers. An orchestral version by Leonidas Leonardi, a Ravel student, requires even larger forces than Ravel's. The Leonardi version was commissioned by W. Bessel & Co., Paris (publishers of Mussorgsky's piano original) since they were quite taken aback by the enormous success of the Maurice Ravel version following its premiere in 1922 under Serge Koussevitzky's direction. At that time, W. Bessel were still jealously guarding their rights in Mussorgsky's works, and they reluctantly gave Serge Koussevitzky permission to perform Ravel's independently-created orchestral version, on the condition that he would not allow anyone else to conduct it. Their conviction was that an arrangement of one of their piano publications would bring no commercial advantage. That Bessel were mistaken became evident as the Ravel orchestration proved ever more successful. Thereafter, W. Bessel & Co. approached a precocious 21-year-old Russian-born pianist named Leonidas Leonardi (1901–1967) (a.k.a. Leon Leonardi or Leonid Leonardi) to provide them with an orchestral version of their own which would surpass Ravel's. Leonardi dedicated his orchestration to Igor Stravinsky, and conducted the premiere himself with the Lamoureux Orchestra in Paris on 15 June 1924. The US premiere took place when the New York Symphony Orchestra played it on 4 December 1924 under the baton of Walter Damrosch. Subsequently it has lapsed into obscurity and no recording exists for it, except for the third promenade and Tuileries , which was used in Leonard Slatkin's first compilation version, included in the St. Louis Symphony set, "The Slatkin Years 6 CD Set".
Another arrangement appeared when Eugene Ormandy took over the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1936 following Leopold Stokowski's decision to resign the conductorship. Ormandy wanted a version of Pictures of his own and commissioned Lucien Cailliet, the Philadelphia Orchestra's 'house arranger' and a member of the woodwind section, to produce one. This version was premiered and recorded by Ormandy in 1937. Walter Goehr, on the other hand, published a version in 1942 for smaller forces than Ravel but curiously dropped Gnomus altogether and made Limoges the first "picture".
The conductor Leopold Stokowski had introduced Ravel's version to Philadelphia audiences in November 1929; ten years later he produced his own very free orchestration (incorporating much re-composition), aiming for what he called a more 'Slavic' orchestral sound instead of Ravel's more 'Gallic' approach. Stokowski revised his version over the years and made three gramophone recordings of it (1939, 1941 and 1965). The score, finally published in 1971, has since been recorded by other conductors, including Matthias Bamert, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Oliver Knussen and José Serebrier.
Although Ravel's version is most often performed and recorded, a number of conductors have made their own changes to the scoring, including Arturo Toscanini, Nikolai Golovanov and Djong Victorin Yu. Conductor and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy has produced his own orchestral arrangement, expressing dissatisfaction with Ravel's interpretive liberties and perpetuation of early printing errors. The conductor Leonard Slatkin has performed 'compendium' versions, in which each Promenade and "picture" is interpreted by a different orchestral arranger.
Many other orchestrations and arrangements of Pictures have been made. Most show debts to Ravel; the original piano composition is, of course, frequently performed and recorded. A version for chamber orchestra exists, made by Taiwanese composer Chao Ching-Wen. Elgar Howarth arranged it for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble in the 1970s. Kazuhito Yamashita wrote an adaptation for solo classical guitar. Excerpts have also been recorded, including a 78 rpm disc of The Old Castle and Catacombs orchestrated by Sir Granville Bantock, and a spectacular version of The Great Gate of Kiev was scored by Douglas Gamley for full symphony orchestra, male voice choir and organ.
The suite has inspired homages in a broad range of musical styles. A version featured in two albums by the British trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer incorporates elements of progressive rock, jazz and folk music (1971/2008). An electronic music adaptation by Isao Tomita was done in 1975. A heavy metal arrangement of the entire suite was released by German band Mekong Delta; another metal band, Armored Saint, utilised the "Great Gate of Kiev"'s main theme as the introduction to the track "March of the Saint". In 2002, electronic musician-composer Amon Tobin paraphrased "Gnomus" for the track "Back From Space" on his album Out from Out Where. In 2003, guitarist-composer Trevor Rabin released his electric guitar adaptation of "Promenade", once intended for the Yes album Big Generator, and later included on his demo album 90124. In 2005 Animusic 2 was released with an orchestration which was titled "Cathedral Pictures". It is based on the Emerson, Lake, & Palmer version, thus it contains only three movements: the first "Promenade", "Hut on Fowl Legs", and "The Great Gate of Kiev".
The most recent addition is an Amadeus Orchestra commission of ten composers, each taking one 'picture'. (See below for the list of composers). The result is an interesting variety of styles and arguably the most intelligent scoring since Ravel.
*While most of the original Hartmann's are lost, interpretations can be found at the following website address. Cut and paste the address into your browser to see these additional pictures.