Pictures at an Exhibition

Modest Mussorgsky

The Final JEOPARDY on April 29, 2022, was in the category MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS. “‘Tuileries’ and ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ were 2 of the artworks that inspired this classical work completed in 1874.” Only the defending champion got it correct. What is Pictures at an Exhibition? Yes, I knew that one.

I have at least two versions of this piece. One on the NAXOS label notes that the suite was “a tribute to the versatile Viktor Hartmann,” who was an architect, among other things. THAT I was not aware of. Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (1839-1881) wrote the piece for piano in 1874. But it did not gain its prominence in the classical canon until Maurice Ravel’s 1922 adaptation for a full symphony.

As the Wikipedia page shows, it is a 10-movement piece, interrupted by various forms of a Promenade. The first Promenade is described from notes by Vladimir Stasov, an influential critic, who likely introduced Mussorgsky to Hartmann. “In this piece Mussorgsky depicts 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.'”


Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Chicago Symphony Orchestra live, conducted by Georg Solti
Ukrainian Radio Symphony Orchestra with some vocals, though they are mixed down so low that they are nearly inaudible
Sergui Celibidache – this is a slower take than many

The NAXOS recording I have is from the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. I could not find the entire piece online. But you can hear the stirring finale, The Great Gate of Kiev, which has always made me emotional.

The FIRST LP I owned of Pictures at an Exhibition, though, was by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, described as incorporating “elements of progressive rock, jazz, and folk music (1971).” The lyrics were by Greg Lake.

Note: my spellcheck wants to spell Kiev as Kyiv. I’m guessing that was a recent adaptation.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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