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Pictures at an Exhibition

Pictures at an Exhibition is a famous suite of musical pieces; it was composed by Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky originally for piano and first made public in 1874. Mussorgsky wrote the original composition as a commemoration of his close friend, the architect and sometimes painter Viktor Hartmann[?], who was only 39 when he died in 1873. In 1874 an exhibition was organized in honor of Hartmann.

Pictures at an Exhibition musically illustrates a visit to this exhibition by the composer. It incorporates musical pieces representing ten of Hartmann's images, with an additional Promenade theme representing the viewer walking from exhibit to exhibit. The promenade theme is repeated several times, but further and further apart, representing a viewer who is being drawn into the works and becoming lost in thought.

Pictures at an Exhibition was later arranged for orchestra by Maurice Ravel in 1922. Many other arrangements have been created, and the original piano composition is also performed, but Ravel's arrangement is the most popular form of the work.

There have also been two very different rock music interpretations, by Emerson, Lake and Palmer and by Isao Tomita[?].

Pictures at an Exhibition has the following order:

  • Promenade {French}. Bb major. In this piece Mussorgsky depicts himself entering the exhibition and walking through the gallery to the first exhibit. It has simple, strong rhythms, but a changing meter. Ravel's arrangement uses a ceremonial solo trumpet and brass chorale.
  • Gnomus {Latin: (The) Gnome}. Eb minor. This piece is based on Hartmann's design sketch of a toy nutcracker shaped like “a little gnome walking awkwardly on deformed legs”. Its meter is 3/4.
  • Promenade 2. Ab major. The promenade theme, illustrating the viewer walking from work to work. Ravel's arrangement uses a solo horn alternating with a woodwind.
  • Il vecchio castello {Italian: The Old Castle}. G# minor. This piece is based on Hartmann's painting of a troubador singing in front of a castle. Ravel's arrangement uses an alto saxophone for the melody (presumably representing the troubador) over a drone ostinato. Its meter is 6/8.
  • Promenade 3. B major.
  • Tuileries (Dispute d'enfants après jeux) {French: Tuileries (Dispute between Children at Play)}. B major. Hartmann originally pictured an empty garden near the Louvres in Paris, France. Mussorgsky musically added children chattering and playing in the garden.
  • Bydlo {Polish: Cattle}. G# minor. This was probably a drawing of a Polish oxcart (Bydlo is Polish for "cattle"). Ravel represents the bulk of the oxcart using a solo euphonium. Its meter is 2/4.
  • Promenade 4. D minor.
  • Balet nevylupivshikhsya ptentsov {Russian: Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks}. F major. This is based on Hartmann's costume design sketches for the ballet Trilbi; the chicks are canaries. Its meter is 2/4.
  • "Samuel" Goldenberg und "Schmuÿle" {Yiddish}. Bb minor. Stasov adds a description "Two Jews: Rich and Poor"; some have incorrectly perceived this description as part of the original title. Some arrangements have retitled this piece as "Two Polish Jews, Rich and Poor (a.k.a. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle)". The title shown here is the one used in Mussorgsky's original manuscript. These are two separate pencil drawings, given as gifts from Hartmann to Mussorgsky. Ravel represents the rich man using a strong, resonant sound from unison strings and woodwind, while he represents the poor man using a muted piccolo trumpet.
  • Promenade 5. Bb major. This is in the original, but many arrangements including Ravel's arrangement omit it.
  • Limoges le marché (La grande nouvelle) {French: The Market at Limoges (The Big News)}. Eb major. Limoges is a city in central France. Musically this piece represents a bustling market place.
  • Catacombae (Sepulcrum Romanum) (Latin: The Catacombs). B minor. Hartmann pictured himself in the subterranean tombs of Paris. Its meter is 3/4.
  • Con mortuis in lingua mortua {Latin: With the Dead in a Dead Language}. B minor. In his manuscript, Mussorgsky states that, “The creative spirit of the dead Hartmann leads me towards skulls, but apostrophises them - the skulls are illuminated from within.” Its meter is 6/4.
  • Izbushka na kur'ikh nozhkakh (Baba-Yaga) {Russian: The Hut on Hen's Legs (Baba-Yaga[?])}. C major. This is based on a drawing of an elaborately carved clock representing the hut of Baba Yaga[?]. Baba Yaga is a witch in old Russian legends who ate human bones. Its meter is 2/4.
  • Bogatyrskie vorota (vo stol'nom gorode vo Kieve) {Russian: The Knight's Gate (in the Ancient Capital, Kiev)}. Eb major. Another translation of this name is "The Great Gate of Kiev". This is based on sketches Hartmann made for a planned (but never built) monumental gate for Tsar Alexander II.

Oddly enough, only three of the ten pictures represented actually appeared in the 1874 Hartmann exhibit: The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks, Baba Yaga's Hut, and The Great Gate of Kiev.

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