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Viktor Hartmann
Design for the Naval Department of Russian Pavilion at the Vienna World Fair
Mixed media on paper

29 x 22 cm
Image: WikiCommons

Mussorgsky’s "Pictures at an Exhibition" Inspired by Viktor Hartmann

Excerpt from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:

Pictures at an Exhibition, musical work in 10 movements by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky that was inspired by a visit to an art exhibition. Each of the movements represents one of the drawings or artworks on display. Although originally composed in 1874 for solo piano, Pictures became better known in orchestral form, particularly as arranged by French composer Maurice Ravel in 1922. The work was also orchestrated by other composers, such as Sir Henry J. Wood (1918), Leopold Stokowski (1939), and Vladimir Ashkenazy (1982). In 1971 the British popular music group Emerson, Lake and Palmer devoted an entire album to their own art-rock interpretation of the piece.

Mussorgsky composed Pictures as a memorial to his friend, the Russian artist Viktor Hartmann, who had died in 1873 at age 39. Shortly after the artist’s death, Mussorgsky visited a retrospective exhibit of Hartmann’s sketches, stage designs, and architectural studies and felt the need to capture the experience in music. By early summer 1874, he had completed the work, a lengthy and fiendishly difficult suite for solo piano. At the time of Mussorgsky’s death in 1881 from alcoholism, the piece had been neither performed nor published. It fell to his friend and colleague Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov to tidy up the manuscript and bring it to print in 1886.

The suite consists of musical depictions of 10 paintings by Hartmann, interspersed with a recurring "Promenade" theme, or intermezzo, that represents a visitor—in this case, the composer himself—strolling through the exhibition. The powerful nature of the intermezzi, Mussorgsky acknowledged in one of his letters, reflects his own large physique.

Following the opening "Promenade," the first four movements, or "pictures," in order of appearance, are: "The Gnome," a depiction of an awkward dwarf conveyed through irregular rhythms and forceful outbursts "The Old Castle," a solemn and lyrical portrayal of a medieval troubadour singing on the grounds of a grand castle "Tuileries," a sprightly sketch of children at play in the well-known Tuileries Gardens in Paris and "Cattle," a ponderous characterization of the lumbering of a large Polish ox cart.

Continued: "Pictures at an Exhibition" Encyclopædia Britannica


Additional Information:

Victor Hartmann and Modeste Musorgsky
Alfred Frankenstein
The Musical Quarterly
Vol. 25, No. 3 (Jul., 1939), pp. 268-291


Viktor Hartmann, Russian, (1834-1873)
b. May 5, 1834, St. Petersburg
d. 1873

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