We introduced Modest Mussorgsky in October 2009. He's a Russian composer from the late 1800s.
In 1870, Mussorgsky met an artist and architect named Viktor Hartmann. Hartmann died three years later (at age 39). In early 1874, an exhibition was put together of over 400 of Hartmann's artwork. Mussorgsky attend the exhibition, and was moved by it. In six weeks, he wrote a tribute piece to Hartmann and his artwork: "Pictures from an Exhibition - A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann", known today as, simply, "Pictures at an Exhibition".
Mussorgsky originally wrote this piece for piano. He chose ten pieces of art, and wrote a short piece about what was in the piece. Many of these pieces have been lost to time, but historians have been able to piece together a lot of information about the missing pieces.
Here are all of the movements:
The "Promenade" is in a very unusal 11/4 time signature. It's supposed to represent walking into the exhibit, but instead of marching (which would be a 2/4 or 4/4 time signature), you're just ambling in with no particular place to go.
Your first stop is "Gnomus" or a sketch depicting a little gnome. It is running very clumsily, due to crooked legs. Some think that this may have been a preliminary design for a nutcracker with big teeth.
Now you're walking again (the "Promenade" theme comes back), and you come to a picture of an old medieval castle. In the painting, you see a troubadour (a medieval traveling musician) singing a song. This is "The Old Castle".
You walk a little further, and you see two paintings. First, you see a painting depicting the garden of Tuileries (in France). The picture includes many children at play. The title is "Tuileries" with a subtitle of "Dispute Between Children at Play". Without moving, you see a painting of an old Polish ox cart with huge wheels being pulled by a pair of oxen ("The Ox Cart").
You walk on (the "Promenade" theme again), and you come to three paintings. The first is actually a sketch. This is a sketch for costume designs for a ballet called Trilby. This particular scene features a dance performed by chicks that have not quite finished hatching ("The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks" or "The Ballet of Chicks in their Shells"). The next painting is of Samuel Goldenberg, and one next to it is a painting of a poor man titled "Schmuÿle". Often, these two pieces are labeled together as "Two Polish Jews: Rich and Poor".
You move on again (the "Promenade" theme), and you see four more pieces. The first is of a marketplace in Limoges (France). You see a woman arguing with a merchant. Next, you see a first-person view of the Paris catacombs by the light of a lantern.
Without moving, you now see a painting of a clock that is modeled after Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga is a witch-like character from Slavic folklore. She lives in a hut that stands on chicken legs. She flies around on a giant mortar or broomstick and kidnaps children.
Right next to the clock painting, you see a sketch for grand city gates of the Ukranian capital city of Kiev. The design was to commemorate Tsar Alexander II's narrow escape from an assassination attempt. This is your last stop at the exhibit.
You will still hear this piece performed by piano every now and then, but it is very commonly performed by orchestra. In 1922, Maurice Ravel (pronounced rah-VEL) created an orchestral arrangement of the piece. The Ravel arrangement actually leaves out one of the "Promenade" movements (between "Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle" and "Limoges"). This is the most commonly performed version today (and the one you'll be hearing in your assignment).
Subtle parts of "Pictures at an Exhibition" are often heard in TV shows (particularly cartoons), so I may have heard some parts of this earlier. I actually performed (on trombone) the last movement ("The Great Gate of Kiev") in sixth grade. Watertown school districts would perform a concert featuring school bands from fifth grade through High School. It was held in the High School gym. Each band would play a piece or two. At the very end of the concert, all the bands would combine into one massive band and perform one piece. Under the direction of Ron LeRoy, that piece was always "The Great Gate of Kiev" from "Pictures at an Exhibition".
In fact, there's a funny story there. It was either my sixth grade year or seventh grade year (don't remember). I'm guessing sixth grade, as it would have been my first time at such an event. I had to carry my trombone around (not the case, the assembled instrument). Most of the time, I wasn't performing. I also had a program of the concert, plus some sheets of paper with various instructions. I didn't want to carry those around, too, but I didn't have a place to set them. So I rolled them up, and put them in my trombone's bell (the part that flares out). This would have worked well had I not forgotten that they were still there when we were playing "The Great Gate of Kiev". Half-way through the piece, I realized the stranged muffled sound of my instrument was due to paper still being stuffed in the bell.
But my official introduction to this piece was a partial arrangement for wind ensemble (band). When I was in ninth grade, under the baton of Jerry Borchardt, we performed this arrangement. It included, maybe, 3/4 of the movements. I definitely remember performing the Promenade, Old Castle, Ox Cart, Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks, The Hut of Baba-Yaga, and The Great Gate of Kiev. There may have been others, but those are the ones I remembered. If memory serves, the bassoon solo in The Old Castle was performed by Chris Schultz (a friend of mine).
Anyway, as a result, I sought out a recording at the Watertown Library. I found a New York Philharmonic recording, as I recall, and listened to it frequently. I've had a recording of it in my collection ever since.
The Tuileries movement found itself in the 80s cartoon show, The Smurfs. It's practically their main theme (during the show).
I rarely got this high in the game, but as I recall, in the TI game Alpiner, if you got to the top of a specific mountain, it played the Promenade theme.
Also, thanks to my friend, Dan Torkelson, in High School, I was introduced to a version of "Pictures at an Exhibition" arranged and performed by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I don't have a digital recording of this album at this time, so I haven't included it in the Extra Credit section, but it's worth looking into (if you like ELP or progressive rock).
The Great Gate of Kiev was also the closing number of the soundtrack to the laser lightshow "A Crystal Odyssey" (mentioned several times in the past).
Now, I didn't want to assign the full piece. I wanted to select a few movements, just so this doesn't go too long. Each movement is pretty short, so this shouldn't be too bad. It'll give you a good taste of the wide variety of styles for each piece.
The first one is, of course, the Promenade. Once again, this is supposed to represent walking into the exhibit hall, a big open building with artwork all along the walls.