Friday, March 27, 2009

Pictures at an Exhibition

(Russian: Картинки с выставки – Воспоминание о Викторе Гартмане, Kartinki s vystavki – Vospominaniye o Viktore Gartmane)

"Pictures at an Exhibition – A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann"
A suite of ten piano pieces composed by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874.

Modest Mussorgsky was a member of 'The Five' (or 'The Mighty Handful'), a 19th-century group of Russian composers including Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, and Cui. Together, The Five created the so-called Nationalist school of Russian music. Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' was inspired by an exhibition of paintings by his deceased friend Viktor Hartmann and is a particularly striking example of The Five's efforts to create a distinctively Russian version of European style classical music. It was originally written for solo piano (the version played with much grace and power by Naoko Sugiyama on a Sunday afternoon at The First Parish in Waltham). It has inspired orchestration by Rimsky-Korsakov and, most famously, by Ravel. But the raw power of live solo piano is the way to hear it. Mussorgsky supplies the Might; the pianist has got her hands full.

The Pictures

No. 1 "Gnomus" (Latin: The Gnome)

Vladimir Stasov: "A sketch depicting a little gnome, clumsily running with crooked legs." Hartmann's sketch, now lost, is thought to represent a toy nutcracker.

This picture shows one of Hartmann's costume designs for a revival of Mikhail Glinka's opera Ruslan i Lyudmila. The evil wizard Chernomor wears a turban crowned by a bat, and bears a staff with an owl perched upon it. The opera was performed with Hartmann's designs in 1871 by the Bolshoi Theatre.

No. 2 "Il vecchio castello" (Italian: The Old Castle)

Stasov: "A medieval castle before which a troubador sings a song." This movement is thought to be based on a watercolor depiction of an Italian castle. Hartman often placed appropriate human figures in his architectural renderings to suggest scale.

No. 3 "Tuileries" (Dispute d'enfants après jeux) French: Tuileries (Dispute between Children at Play)

Stasov: "An avenue in the garden of the Tuileries, with a swarm of children and nurses." Hartmann's picture of the Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre in Paris (France) is now lost. Figures of children quarrelling and playing in the garden were likely added by the artist (see note on No. 2 above).

No. 4 "Bydło" (Polish: Cattle)

Stasov: "A Polish cart on enormous wheels, drawn by oxen."

No. 5 "Балет невылупившихся птенцов" [Balet nevylupivshikhsya ptentsov] (Russian: Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks)

Stasov: "Hartmann's design for the décor of a picturesque scene in the ballet Trilby."
Gerald Abraham: "Trilby or The Demon of the Heath, a ballet with choreography by Petipa, music by Julius Gerber, and décor by Hartmann... produced in 1870. The fledglings were canary chicks."

No. 6 "Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuÿle" (Yiddish)

Stasov: "Two Jews: Rich and Poor"

No. 7 "Limoges, le marché" (La grande nouvelle) (French: The Market at Limoges (The Great News))

Stasov: "French women quarreling violently in the market." Limoges is a city in central France.

No. 8 "Catacombae" (Sepulcrum romanum) (Latin: The Catacombs (Roman sepulcher))

Stasov: "Hartmann represented himself examining the Paris catacombs by the light of a lantern."

No. 9 "Избушка на курьих ножках" (Баба-Яга) [Izbushka na kur'ikh nozhkakh (Baba-Yaga)] (Russian: The Hut on Hen's Legs (Baba-Yaga)

Stasov: "Hartmann's drawing depicted a clock in the form of Baba-Yaga's hut on fowl's legs. Mussorgsky added the witch's flight in a mortar."

No. 10 "Богатырские ворота" (В стольном городе во Киеве) [Bogatïrskie vorota (v stol'nom gorode vo Kieve)] (Russian: The Bogatyr Gates (in the Capital in Kiev)
Commonly translated as "The Great Gate of Kiev." Bogatyrs are heroes that appear in Russian epics called bylinas. The title is also sometimes rendered "The Heroes' Gate at Kiev."

Stasov: "Hartmann's sketch was his design for city gates at Kiev in the ancient Russian massive style with a cupola shaped like a slavonic helmet." Hartmann made a sketch for a planned (but never built) monumental gate for Tsar Alexander II. This gate was to have commemorated the Tsar's narrow escape from an assassination attempt on April 4, 1866. Hartmann's design for the gate caused a sensation, and the architect himself felt it was the finest work he had yet done.

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