Pictures at an Exhibition

From Academic Kids

Pictures at an Exhibition is a famous suite of musical pieces, composed - originally for piano - by Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky and first published in 1874. Mussorgsky wrote the original composition in commemoration of his close friend, the architect and sometime painter Viktor Hartmann, who was only 39 when he died in 1873.

In 1874 an exhibition was mounted in honour of Hartmann. Pictures at an Exhibition musically illustrates a visit which the composer made to this exhibition. The idea of composing programme music based on a non-musical concept was a popular one during the Romantic Music Era. Pictures at an Exhibition incorporates musical pieces representing ten of Hartmann's images, with an additional Promenade theme representing the viewer walking from exhibit to exhibit. The promenade theme is repeated several times, but each time further and further apart, representing a viewer who is being drawn into the works and becoming lost in thought.



Pictures at an Exhibition was later arranged for orchestra by Maurice Ravel in 1922. Many other arrangements have been created, and the original piano composition is also performed; however, Ravel's arrangement is the most popular form of the work.

There have also been two very different non-classical interpretations: one incorporating rock, jazz and folk music elements by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (see Pictures at an Exhibition (album)), and an electronic music adaptation by Isao Tomita. A brass ensemble arrangement was made by Elgar Howarth for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble in the 1970s. There is even an adaption for solo guitar by Kazuhito Yamashita. There exist also a heavy metal arrangement made by german band "Mekong Delta".


The order of themes in Pictures at an Exhibition is the following:

  • Promenade (French). B flat major. In this piece Mussorgsky depicts himself entering the exhibition and walking through the gallery to the first exhibit. It has simple, strong rhythms, but a changing meter. Ravel's arrangement uses a ceremonial solo trumpet and brass chorale.
Missing image
Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition "Promenade"

  • Gnomus (Latin, (the) Gnome). e flat minor. This piece is based on Hartmann's design sketch of a toy nutcracker shaped like "a little gnome walking awkwardly on deformed legs". It is in 3/4 time.
  • Promenade 2. A flat major. The promenade theme, illustrating the viewer walking from work to work. Ravel's arrangement uses a solo horn alternating with a woodwind.
  • Il vecchio castello (Italian, The Old Castle). g sharp minor. This piece is based on Hartmann's painting of a troubador singing in front of a castle. Ravel's arrangement uses an alto saxophone for the melody (presumably representing the troubador) over a drone ostinato. The time signature is 6/8.
  • Promenade 3. B major.
  • Tuileries (Dispute d'enfants après jeux) (French, Tuileries (Dispute between Children at Play)). B major. Hartmann originally pictured an empty garden near the Louvre in Paris, France. Mussorgsky musically added children chattering and playing in the garden.
  • Bydlo (Polish, Cattle). g sharp minor. This was probably a drawing of a Polish oxcart (Bydlo is Polish for "cattle"). Ravel represents the bulk of the oxcart using a solo euphonium. It is in 2/4 time.
  • Promenade 4. d minor.
  • Balet nevylupivshikhsya ptentsov (Russian, Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks). F major. This is based on Hartmann's costume design sketches for the ballet Trilbi; the chicks are canaries. The time signature is 2/4.
  • "Samuel" Goldenberg und "Schmuÿle" (Yiddish). b flat minor. Stasov adds a description "Two Jews: Rich and Poor"; some have incorrectly perceived this description to be part of the original title. Some arrangements have retitled this piece as "Two Polish Jews, Rich and Poor (a.k.a. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle)". The title given here is the one used in Mussorgsky's original manuscript. These are two separate pencil drawings, presented by Hartmann to Mussorgsky. Ravel uses a strong, resonant sound from unison strings and woodwind to represent the rich man, while a high muted trumpet represents the poor man. The use of augmented second intervals approximate Jewish modes such as Ahava Rabbah (Freygish).
  • Promenade 5. B flat major. This is in the original, but many arrangements including Ravel's arrangement omit it.
  • Limoges le marché (La grande nouvelle) (French, The Market at Limoges (The Great News)). E flat major. Limoges is a city in central France. Musically this piece represents a bustling market place.
  • Catacombae (Sepulcrum Romanum) (Latin, The Catacombs). b minor. Hartmann pictured himself in the subterranean tombs of Paris. In 3/4 time.
  • Con mortuis in lingua mortua (Latin, With the Dead in a Dead Language). b minor. In his manuscript, Mussorgsky states that, "The creative spirit of the dead Hartmann leads me towards the skulls, calls to them - the skulls quietly begin to shine". The time signature of this section is 6/4.
  • Izbushka na kur'ikh nozhkakh (Baba-Yaga) (Russian, The Hut on Hen's Legs (Baba Yaga)). C major. This is based on a drawing of an elaborately carved clock representing the hut of Baba Yaga (a witch in old Russian legends). The meter is 2/4.
  • Bogatyrskie vorota (vo stol'nom gorode vo Kieve) (Russian, The Knight's Gate (in the Ancient Capital, Kiev)). E flat major. Another translation of this name is "The Great Gate of Kiev". This is based on sketches Hartmann made for a planned (but never built) monumental gate for Tsar Alexander II.

Oddly enough, only three of the ten pictures represented actually appeared in the 1874 Hartmann exhibit: The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks, Baba Yaga's Hut, and The Great Gate of Kiev.


External links

See Also

de:Bilder einer Ausstellung ja:展覧会の絵 nl:De schilderijententoonstelling pl:Obrazki z wystawy


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