Pictures at an Exhibition (tr Saras)
1. Promenade A (1839-1881)
2. Gnomus arranged by Maurice Ravel
3. Promenade B adapted for wind ensemble by Erik Saras
4. Il vecchio castello (The Old Castle)
5. Promenade C
8. Promenade D
9. Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
10. Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuÿle
11. Limoges (The Market Place)
13. Cum mortuis in lingua mortua (With the Dead in a Dead Language)
14. Baba Yaga (The Hut on Hen’s Legs)
15. The Great Gate of Kiev
A Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
A Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
C Trumpet I-II
Horn in F I-II
(percussion detail needed)
None discovered thus far.
Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky composed Pictures at an Exhibition in 1874. The work is a tribute to his friend and colleague Viktor Hartmann, an artist who died one year earlier. Vladimir Stasov, an art critic who was a mutual friend and enthusiastic supporter of both the artist and composer, assembled a commemorative exhibit in St. Petersburg, and Mussorgsky’s frequent visits to the gallery were inspirational:
"Hartmann is boiling as Boris [Godunov] boiled; sounds and ideas have been hanging in the air; I am devouring them and stuffing myself - I barely have time to scribble them on paper. I am writing the fourth number - the links are good (on Promenade). I want to finish it as quickly and securely as can. My profile can be seen in the interludes. I consider it successful to this point. "
Mussorgsky and Hartmann were kindred spirits who shared a desire to turn away from the European training and influence that had held sway over Russian music, art, and literature. Both were intrigued by folk and popular elements of Russian history and culture, and were determined to use them in their efforts to develop a nationalistic identity in the arts. Judging from Mussorgsky’s tribute to Hartmann, music that possesses a dramatic and sweeping quality on a scale far greater than the artwork itself, the relationship between Mussorgsky and Hartmann must have been deep and powerful. The music begins with a Promenade, a noble theme that represents the composer moving through the gallery, and that returns as transition material between several of the movements. According to Stasov, Mussorgsky depicted himself “roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly in order to come close to a picture that had attracted his attention, and at times sadly, thinking of his departed friend.” As the Promenade theme returns at various points during the work, it takes on different emotional qualities, reflecting the evolving feelings of the composer as he makes his way through the exhibit. The artworks Mussorgsky portrays musically are described below:
1. The Gnome - This movement was inspired by a work that Stasov describes as a “sketch depicting a little gnome, clumsily running with crooked legs,” a drawing that has unfortunately not survived. He also mentions that the gnome in the sketch is carved from wood, “a kind of nutcracker,” and that the “gnome accompanies his bizarre movements with savage shrieks,” movements that are vividly depicted in the music.
2. The Old Castle - Hartmann’s lost watercolor portrayed an ancient Italian castle before which a troubadour stands, playing his lute. Although the scene is thoroughly Italian, and the underlying rhythm of the music is that of the Siciliano, the melody is unmistakably Russian, heavily influenced by the folk music of Mussorgsky’s native land.
3. Tuileries (Children Quarreling After Play) - The artwork that inspired this movement has disappeared, although the catalogue of the original exhibit lists a work titled Tuileries Gardens, crayons, which was undoubtedly the inspiration. Throughout his life Mussorgsky, like Ravel, maintained a special connection with the world of children. He never lost his ability to see the world through the eyes of a child, a rare talent that reveals itself in this charming movement.
4. Bydlo (Cattle) - Like Tuileries, this movement was inspired by an illustration that has also been lost. But the mystery of Bydlo is increased by the fact that there is no record of any artwork depicting cattle or an ox-cart in the exhibition catalogue. In a note to Stasov, Mussorgsky wrote, “Right between the eyes - the ox-cart,” a reference to his intent that this movement should take listeners by surprise: a sudden fortissimo without the benefit of an introductory promenade. When Rimsky-Korsakov edited the work for publication, he was either unaware or unconvinced by Mussorgsky’s intent and changed the opening dynamic of Bydlo to pianissimo in order to create the illusion of the ox-cart approaching from the distance.
5. Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks - According to Stasov, “In 1870 Hartmann designed the costumes for the staging of the ballet Trilbi at the Maryinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg. In the cast were a number of boy and girl pupils from the theatre school arrayed as canaries. Others were dressed up as eggs.” Once again, Mussorgsky’s affinity for children shines through this bright and energetic depiction.
6. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle - Much confusion and controversy has surrounded the name of this movement, due in large part to the subtitle Stasov added for the first published edition, Two Jews, Rich and Poor. An examination of the manuscript reveals that Mussorgsky did not use Stasov’s subtitle, but did indeed use the personal names of the two subjects. These names do not appear in the catalogue of Hartmann’s exhibit, however, and were likely created by the composer. Regardless of the title, the artwork and music both vividly portray members of two very different elements of society.
7. Limoges. The Market Place (Important News) - The artwork that inspired this movement is lost, although it was probably one or more of the seventy-five images of Limoges that were included in the exhibit. According to Stasov, “Hartmann spent a fairly long time in the French town in 1866, executing many architectural sketches and genre pictures. The musical version of this sketch [illustrates] the crowd shrieking, disputing, chattering and quarreling in the marketplace.”
8. Catacombs (A Roman Sepulchre) - With the Dead/n a Dead Language - Hartmann’s portrayal of the Parisian catacombs, one of the collection’s most evocative and personal images, has survived. It depicts the artist himself, along with a friend and their guide, as they are about to tour the catacombs by lamplight. To the right of the entrance is a large case of skulls glowing in the darkness, a detail that attracted Mussorgsky’s attention. In the margins of the manuscript he penciled the subtitle of this movement in Latin, commenting that “Latin text would be fine: the creative genius of the late Hartmann leads me to the skulls and invokes them; the skulls begin to glow.” As the Promenade theme emerges from these haunting chords, it suggests that in his imagination the composer has joined the artist in his nocturnal tour through the catacombs.
9. The Hut on Hen’s Legs (Baba-Yaga) - According to Stasov, “This piece is based on Hartmann’s design for a clock in the form of Baba-Yaga’s hut on hen’s legs, to which Mussorgsky added the ride of the witch in her mortar.” Mussorgsky scholar Michael Russ amplifies Stasov’s description: “Baba-Yaga appears in Russian fairy-tales. She lives deep in the woods in a hut whose hen’s legs allow it to rotate to face each unfortunate newcomer. There she lures lost children to eat them, crushing their bones in the giant mortar in which she rides through the woods, propelling herself with the pestle and covering her tracks with a broomstick.”
10. The Great Gate of Kiev - Stasov informs us that the gate that inspired this movement, designed by Hartmann for a competition at Kiev, was done in the “massive old Russian style, with a cupola in the form of a Slavonic helmet.” Although the goal of the competition was to identify a design for a new gate to be constructed in commemoration of Tsar Alexander l’s escape from an assassination attempt in 1866, the construction of the gate was cancelled. Regardless, Hartmann’s design attracted considerable attention, and he regarded it as one of his greatest accomplishments. Much like Mussorgsky’s music, it is thoroughly nationalistic in design, incorporating Russian elements such as the eagle, cupola, ancient Russian figures, and the old Slavonic inscription: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The composer mirrors the intent of the artist through the use of a Russian Orthodox chant as well as recurring bell motives that evoke the pealing of multiple carillons for a climax that is one of the most memorable in all classical music.
It is highly unlikely that there is another piece of classical music that has been arranged, transcribed, or adapted more often than Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. In the decades since it was published for solo piano in 1874, it has been re-imagined for an incredibly wide range of ensembles, including chamber orchestra, symphony orchestra, wind ensemble, concert band, jazz orchestra, brass ensemble, percussion ensemble, vocal ensemble, piano duet, piano trio, solo organ, organ trio, solo guitar, and synthesizer, as well as progressive rock, metal, and punk-jazz bands. When one tallies the published versions of these settings, the count exceeds sixty-five, and when the unofficial arrangements and incomplete settings are included the number easily surpasses one hundred! In spite of this deluge of transcriptions, however, there is only one whose fame and success rivals that of the composition itself: Maurice Ravel’s incomparable setting for symphony orchestra.
Ravel’s transcription was certainly not the first. That honor went to Russian composer and conductor Michael Touschmaloff, who most likely created his setting while still a student in Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s composition class in 1886. When his arrangement was published in 1900 Rimsky-Korsakov was credited as a collaborator, although this was likely a marketing ploy since the setting’s straightforward treatment reveals little of Rimsky-Korsakov’s typical brilliance and flair. The next transcription did not arrive until 1915, when British conductor Sir Henry Wood crafted an arrangement that was played with some frequency for the decade following its creation. Its success was short-lived, however, for it was quickly overshadowed by the arrival of Ravel’s arrangement in 1922. The Russian-born conductor Serge Koussevitsky commissioned the French composer and master orchestrator to create a setting “in the manner of Rimsky-Korsakov.” While the transcription sounds much more like Ravel than Rimsky-Korsakov, it does possess the shimmer and sheen of the Russian master.
Koussevitsky’s exclusive performance rights of the Ravel until 1929 allowed Wood’s setting to survive the decade, but when that contract expired Wood withdrew his version in recognition of the superiority of Ravel’s treatment. In spite of exorbitant performance fees, Ravel’s setting became very popular and quickly established itself as the standard by which all others were judged. Orchestrators and/or conductors such as Leo Funtek, Leonidas Leonardi, Leopold Stokowski, Lucien Cailliet, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and many others tried to recreate Ravel’s success, but none have come close. In the words of Arturo Toscanini, “the two great treatises on instrumentation were the one written by Berlioz and Ravel’s orchestration of Pictures.”
In the years since Ravel’s “treatise,” several settings of Pictures at an Exhibition have been prepared for concert band and/or wind ensemble. Some of these transcribers have eschewed Ravel completely, going back to the “source” in an effort to capture the grittiness and primitive Mussorgsky characteristics that many felt Ravel ignored, while others have elected to incorporate some of Ravel’s techniques with their own. As fine as many of these transcriptions have been, it seems that none has been able to completely escape Ravel’s considerable shadow. In 2011 I asked Paul Lavender if he would consider a different approach for a new setting of Pictures at an Exhibition. Rather than trying to escape from Ravel, I wondered if it were possible to create a band transcription of Ravel, treating his setting as if it were an original composition. Lavender agreed to the challenge and has created this new version of Pictures that received its premiere performance at the 2012 Texas Bandmasters Association in San Antonio, Texas.
- Program Note by Colonel Michael Colburn, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band
None discovered thus far.
To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project
- Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Mallory Thompson, conductor) – 11 November 2016
Works for Winds by this Composer
- Coronation Scene from "Boris Godunov" (tr. Leidzen) (1936)
- Dawn on the Moscow River (arr. Kotovsky) (1874/2019?)
- Marche Turque/In the Village (arr. Hilliard and Lake)
- Mussorgsky! (arr. Harnsberger)
- Night on Bald Mountain (scored Schaefer) (1867/1976/1990)
- Night on Bald Mountain (arr Gardner) (arr. Gardner) (1867)
- Night on Bald Mountain (arr Williams) (arr. Williams) (1867)
- Night on Bare Mountain (orch. Rimsky-Korsakov, tr. Hindsley) (1867/197-?)
- Pictures at an Exhibition (tr. Hindsley) (1874/1995)
- Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel; tr. Lavender) (1874/2011)
- Pictures at an Exhibition (tr. Leidzen) (1874/1942)
- Pictures at an Exhibition (tr. Loest) (1874/2012)
- Pictures at an Exhibition (tr Patterson) (tr. Patterson) (1874)
- Pictures at an Exhibition (tr. Saras) (1874)
- Pictures at an Exhibition (tr Takahashi) (tr. Takahashi)
- Pictures at an Exhibition Finale (orch. Simpson; ed. Reed) (1874/2004)
- Triumphal March Capture of Kars (arr. Simpson)
- Perusal score
- Smith, Norman E. (2002). Program Notes for Band. Chicago: GIA Publications. pp. 441.