Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

The sudden death of Russian painter and architect Viktor Hartmann on 4 August 1873, aged only thirty-nine, shocked Russia's art world and led to critic Vladimir Stasov and others organising a memorial exhibition of more than four hundred of Hartmann's works in St Petersburg during February and March 1874.  The exhibition was visited by Hartmann's close friend, the Russian composer Modest Musorgsky, who was at his most creative period, having recently completed his opera Boris Godunov, but was also in deep despair at the loss of Hartmann. In June that year, Musorgsky was inspired to write Pictures at an Exhibition, starting it on 2 June 1874 and completing it quickly, on 22 June 1874. The work depicts Musorgsky's tour of the exhibition - each of the ten movements representing an individual Hartmann work and the interspersed Promenades depicting Musorgsky moving from painting to painting.  Many of Musorgsky's friends and fellow composers were puzzled by the work, so Musorgsky put it aside and moved onto other work.

Pictures was published after Musorgsky's death, becoming his best known piano work and the inspiration for countless arrangements and orchestrations, including Maurice Ravel's famous orchestration, Emerson, Lake & Palmer's rock version, Lawrence Leonard's Piano Concerto orchestration and two stagings.

Pictures' wide-ranging subject matter is hinted at by the different languages used in the titles of the ten movements - French, Italian, Latin, Polish, Russian and Yiddish - and by the titles themselves:

Gnomus
Il vecchio castello
Tuileries (Dispute d'enfants après jeux)
Bydło
Balet nevylupivshikhsya ptentsov
"Samuel" Goldenberg und "Schmuÿle"
Limoges. Le marché (La grande nouvelle)
Catacombae (Sepulcrum romanum); Con mortuis in lingua mortua
Izbushka na kuryikh nozhkakh (Baba-Yaga)
Bogatyrskiye vorota (V stolnom gorode vo Kiyeve)

 

A selection of articles about Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

Ensemble. Hugely Enjoyable - Bernstein, Marsalis and Musorgsky from Nicola Benedetti, Cristian Măcelaru and the Hallé Orchestra, reviewed by Mike Wheeler

Ensemble. Firmly Projected - Mike Wheeler listens to Schumann and Musorgsky from Sicilian-born pianist Giuseppe Guarrera

CD Spotlight. Dreams and Tales - Giuseppe Pennisi listens to piano music by Musorgsky and Scriabin played by Michele Campanella. '... the different touch from previous renderings makes this CD very well worth listening to.'

Profile. Landmark Collaborations - A personal reminiscence of British conductor Lawrence Leonard, by Keith Bramich

CD Spotlight. Special in Many Ways - Gerald Fenech listens to Musorgsky and Ravel, conducted by François-Xavier Roth. 'Truly hair-raising stuff, wonderfully annotated and recorded.'

CD Spotlight. From Russia with Love - Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov orchestral music from Dmitry Kitajenko and the Gurzenich Orchestra, Cologne, impresses Gerald Fenech. 'Kitajenko draws some gorgeous playing from his Cologne forces, and dynamic and tempo markings are observed with fidelity. Also, orchestral textures are both warm and revealing of inner detail.'

Ensemble. An Exciting Whirlwind - Constantinos Carydis conducts Russian and Greek music in Rome, impressing Giuseppe Pennisi

CD Spotlight. Explosive Classics - A Chandos orchestral compilation, enjoyed by Gerald Fenech. '... the programme is as explosive as one can hope for.'

CD Spotlight. A Committed Recital - Enrique Graf plays Bach, Mendelssohn and Mussorgsky, heard by the late Howard Smith. '... bold exhilaration and striking poetry.'

CD Spotlight. An Absolute Delight - Svjatoslav Richter plays Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky, heard by Geoff Pearce. 'Remind yourself that these are live recordings from 1954-60 and you will enjoy this disc.'

Emotional Impressions - Bill Newman listens to Neapolitan pianist Clelia Cafiero

CD Spotlight. Eyes of History - Piano music by Mussorgsky and Prokofiev, heard by Robert Anderson. '... good value ...'

DVD Spotlight. A Disparate Experiment - 'Aria - Special Edition', reviewed by Howard Smith. 'You never know what you're gonna get.'

CD Spotlight. A Compelling Magnetism - Elena Kuschnerova plays Musorgsky, heard by Howard Smith. '... superbly evocative ...'

Stimulating Fare - Eugene Alcalay plays Bartók, Dutilleux and Beethoven, enjoyed by Malcolm Miller

Ensemble. Tonal Luxuriance - Lawrence Budmen reports from Tanglewood 2009

CD Spotlight. Portraits in Music - 'The Sucker Punch Requiem' by Lisle Ellis, enjoyed by Ron Bierman. 'Recommended ... to classical listeners interested in expanding their listening domain.'

CD Spotlight. A Skilful Balance - The Icicle Creek Piano Trio, reviewed by Howard Smith. '... rhythmically brisk, considered performances ...'

Limitless Combinatorics - Eric Pettine postulates 'No Shortage of Melodies Anytime Soon', and offers some real hope for cynical musicians who think they've heard it all

Ensemble. Thrilling Performance - The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra visits Nottingham, reviewed by Mike Wheeler

CD Spotlight. Superbly Measured - Music by Haskell Small and Mussorgsky, reviewed by Howard Smith. '... indisputably fine pianism ...'

CD Spotlight. Fine Indeed - Stokowski symphonic transcriptions, recommended by Howard Smith. '... an unqualified testament to Stokowski's magic.'

CD Spotlight. Aesthetic and didactic - Music by Respighi and Mussorgsky, reviewed by George Balcombe. 'Tadaaki Otaka conjures the composer's unique sound ...'

Ensemble. Bravura virtuosity - Lawrence Budmen was at the Miami International Piano Festival