Pictures at an Exhibition, Op. 35
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) / Orch. Maurice Ravel
Originally a piano suite, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition invites audiences to join the composer on a journey through a gallery of ten short pieces. One senses the observative posture of Mussorgsky’s gait in the recurring “Preamble” interlude, which “does not hurry, but observes attentively.” As the composer quipped to a friend: “My physiognomy can be seen in the interludes.”
Inspiring the ten-movement suite was the sudden death of Mussorgsky’s close friend, the architect and artist Viktor Hartmann, in 1873. The loss of the talented artist prompted several close friends to put on an exhibition in his honor, to which Mussorgsky contributed several works Hartmann had given him. The exhibition of 400 of Hartmann’s works in St. Petersburg in February and March of 1874 inspired Mussorgsky to compose a musical homage that summer, and Pictures saw its completion within a short three weeks. Ordinary, commonplace scenes of life permeate Mussorgsky’s Pictures: children quarrelling in a garden, the labored movement of an oxcart, business, death, fantasy, love, and the glorification of Kiev. Undergirding the seemingly disparate sequence of pictures is an overarching continuity fulfilled at the arrival of the final triumphant tableaux.
Whereas Mussorgsky conceived the work for piano, Ravel arranged the suite for orchestra in 1922, nearly four decades after the composer’s death. The orchestral arrangement of Pictures reflects Ravel’s deep respect for Mussorgsky. Subtle gradations of expression such as dynamics, articulation markings, expressive devices (glissando, mutes, flutter-tonguing, pizzicato, open strings, bowing) are exclusively Ravel’s interpretation.
Three flutes (two doubling piccolo), three oboes (one doubling English horn), two clarinets, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, two harps, celesta, strings