10 Oct 2014

Curtain Raiser: Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition

From the collecton Curtain Raiser
Viktor Hartmann's Plan for a City Gate

Viktor Hartmann's Plan for a City Gate Photo: Creative Commons

One of the most loved and frequently performed of orchestral masterpieces wasn’t composed for orchestra at all, but originally for piano.

It stands as an epitome of Mussorgsky’s populist endeavours in its expression of the Russian world, painting musical pictures of comedy and tragedy, life and death, fantasy and reality.

Mussorgsky rejected the abstract 19th century German approach to music, and in Pictures he gives us not theoretical symphonic development, but statements and descriptions of characters and personalities in various places and situations. Simply put, Pictures at an Exhibition is a journey into real Russian life.

Over time, Mussorgsky’s realist aspirations led him to associations with writers, philosophers, visual artists and poets, rather than other Russian composers, whom he felt were too concerned with form and technique. In 1870 he formed a friendship with the architect Victor Hartmann, who shared Mussorgsky’s social concern and desire to depict real Russian life through art. Hartmann died in July 1873 of an aneurism, at the age of just 39. Mussorgsky was distressed by the early death of his colleague, and also felt guilty that he hadn’t recognised the signs of Hartmann’s fatal condition.

After attending Hartmann's memorial exhibition Mussorgsky decideded to “draw in music” the best pictures of his friend, representing himself as he strolled through the exhibition, joyfully or sadly recalling his highly talented friend.

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