Pictures at an Exhibition
Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s most famous work for piano is his “Pictures at an Exhibition”, composed in 1874 to accompany an exhibition of artist Viktor Hartmann, who had died the previous year.
Over 400 of Hartmann’s works were displayed in the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg, including works lent by Mussorgsky from his personal collection. Inspired by his visit to the exhibition, Mussorgsky composed his “Pictures at an Exhibition” as a musical guide to his favourite of Hartmann’s drawings and paintings.
He wrote the work in a frenzy and completed it in six weeks. Whilst composing, he wrote to his friend Stasov: “sounds and ideas hang in the air, I am gulping and overeating, and can barely manage to scribble them on paper.”
Known for its spellbinding fingerwork, the work is a favourite among virtuosic pianists. Many other composers have also made arrangements of Mussorgsky’s work, including Maurice Ravel’s arrangement for orchestra from 1922.
Enjoy this recording of the orchestral arrangement, played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Jean-Claude Casadesus. Listen out for the “Promenade” theme which begins the work and leads the listener through the exhibition and into the finale “The Bogatyr Gates”.
While you listen, take a look at some of Hartmann’s paintings which inspired Mussorgsky.