Pictures at an Exhibition – Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)
This piece had many different orchestrations (Ravel’s was the most important). It also has a great variety of folk and popular influences.
Please use everything we have studied in Modules IA, IB, IC to analyze how many different musical aspects and musical components are used in this piece.
Introduction-Wikipedia: “The composition is based on pictures by the artist, architect, and designer Viktor Hartmann. It was probably in 1868 that Mussorgsky first met Hartmann, not long after the latter’s return to Russia from abroad. Both men were devoted to the cause of an intrinsically Russian art and quickly became friends. They likely met in the home of the influential critic Vladimir Stasov, who followed both of their careers with interest. According to Stasov’s testimony, in 1868, Hartmann gave Mussorgsky two of the pictures that later formed the basis of Pictures at an Exhibition” (Source: Wikipedia)
What to do:
Please scroll down the Wikipedia page to “Promenade” (and all the “Promenades” of this piece), “Gnome,” “The Old Castle,” (“Tuileries”), “Cattle”, (“Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks”), “Two Polish Jews,” (“The Market”), “Catacombs/The Hut on Chicken Legs (Baba Yaga),” and “Great Gate of Kiev” under the “Movements” section and listen to the audio recordings performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra in Wikipedia.
The movements in parentheses (eg. Tuileries) do not have audio recordings in Wikipedia. You can listen to them in the other links I have included.
Please write a paper (about two-three pages: 600-900 words), examining the dimensions and components of music as Mussorgsky (and Ravel – the orchestrator) uses them in Pictures at an Exhibition.
Please use the following guidelines to write your paper:
1. General Question:
The conductor Charles Hazlewood has remarked that the music “galvanizes us through our journey through the exhibition.” How does the music add to your experience of the visual images, and shape your visual and emotional experience of the work? While looking at each of Hartman’s paintings, listen to each musical movement that was inspired from each of Hartmann’s paintings.
2. Instrumentation, Orchestration, and Texture:
A handful of critics have written that Ravel’s orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition shows symphony orchestra developments in the past 50 years since Mussorgsky had composed the original score for piano. How does Ravel use orchestral instruments to create visual and emotional effects in the work?
For example: the tuba (especially in “Oxcart/Cattle), harp, celesta, and saxophone (saxophone was a new instrument at that time). Evaluate Ravel’s choices in assigning specific melodies or motifs to specific instruments. Could he had used a different instrument? (Please note the demonstration of “complaining” or “kvetching” motif in “Two Jews, Rich and Poor,” featuring a solo for muted trumpet, as played by the violin.)
In which movements does Mussorgsky make use of pentatonic scale patterns? Do you think there is a particular reason for this?
Which movements we hear Mussorgsky’s use of minor tonalities? Does that make a difference to the whole mood and picture? In which pieces are you particularly aware of Mussorgsky’s use of major
tonalities? What effect does this have?
In “Catacombs,” Mussorgsky chose specific sounds. What kind of sounds (instruments, chords, etc., melodies) you find interesting in this piece, and why? You may also wish to comment on the
harmonies and chords used in this movement.
What kinds of rhythms does the composer seem to use often? How does rhythm make certain people or characters stand out and others seem less distinctive?
How does rhythm contribute to the emotional effect of some movements?
Listen to a few melodies of the piece. How does each melody (which derives from a specific movement), connect to Hartmann’s picture for that movement?
(For example, “The Old Castle”, “Bydlo”)
Listen to a few different motives (melodic fragments) in this musical work. How do they connect to the movement and Hartmann’s picture they derive from? In which sections we find them?
How does the composer transform these melodies and motives throughout the piece? (Note what happens to the “Promenade” melody at the end of the work, when it reappears in “Great Gate of Kiev.”).
– Sources for this assignment: Wikipedia, Saylor Academy
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