Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition
Have you ever been to an art museum and wished that you had music to accompany your experience? Music that made the art you were looking at more vivid, more immediate, and more emotionally intense? Well, Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is the piece for you. Inspired by his late friend Victor Hartmann’s paintings and designs, Mussorgsky composed a series of 10 miniature pieces for piano based on Hartmann's works. Unlike many other collections of miniature pieces that have thematic or structural connections, Pictures at An Exhibition doesn’t feature that at all, keeping with Mussorgsky’s often rebellious ways as a composer. Instead, the music is connected by movements called Promenades, as if Mussorgsky literally walks you to the next painting at the exhibition. Mussorgsky’s remarkably imaginative piece is justly famous and often played by pianists, but what is perhaps the most fascinating thing about this piece is the creativity that it has inspired in other composers. Pictures at an Exhibition, or parts of it, has been arranged more than 50 times for any number of configurations of musicians. So today, we’re going to explore each picture in detail, talking about what Mussorgsky actually does to make these works of art come to life in such a compelling way. At the same time, we’re going to compare the original piano piece to some of the arrangements, focusing of course on the most famous of them all, the explosion of color that is Maurice Ravel’s arrangement. We’ll also talk about Mussorgsky himself, his compositional reputation at the time, and the brilliant creativity of this one of a kind piece.