Pictures by Modest Mussorgsky

Mussorgsky in 1874(Photo: Wikipedia)
Mussorgsky in 1874(Photo: Wikipedia)

Modest Mussorgsky was born on this date in 1839.  He was one of the group of Russian composers known as “The Five,” or “The Mighty Handful,” who were trying to develop a distinctly Russian school of music not so heavily influenced by Western European traditions.

The group included, Mily Balakirev (the founder), Cesar Cui, and better known, Alexander Glazunov and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

In his later years Mussorgsky suffered a sad decline due, in part, to his bitter disappointment with the disintegration of “The Five,” and probably more significantly, his worsening alcoholism.  He died in 1881 at the age of 42.

He was a very gifted and creative composer who left some fascinating music.  There is the great opera Boris Godunov, and his best-known work Pictures at an Exhibition.

Pictures at an Exhibition is the piano suite he wrote in 1874 in homage to his friend Viktor Hartmann, the architect and artist who died the previous year.  Most people reading this are probably already familiar with this popular and colorful work, with its Promenade theme interwoven throughout the 10 movement suite as we travel through an exhibition of Hartmann’s imaginative prints at a gallery.

This suite for solo piano is brilliantly imaginative in its original form, but the version most of us are familiar with is surely Maurice Ravel’s masterful orchestration from 1922.  The Gnome, The Old Castle, Children Quarreling at Play, the ox-cart Bydlo, on through the culminating and majestic Great Gate of Kiev, these cinematic  musical pictures are remarkable in their immediacy and evocative power.

This evening on Symphony @ 7, we’re presenting Mussorgsky’s great work in the Ravel orchestration here on Classical 101.  Join us for a colorful tour through the gallery.

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