Pictures at an Exhibition (Russian: Картинки с выставки — Воспоминание о Викторе Гартмане, Kartinki s vystavki — Vospominaniye o Viktore Gartmane, “Pictures from an Exhibition — A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann”) is a suite in ten movements composed for piano by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky in 1874. The suite is Mussorgsky’s most famous piano composition, and has become a showpiece for virtuoso pianists. It has become further known through various orchestrations and arrangements produced by other musicians and composers, with Ravel’s arrangement being the most recorded and performed.
It was probably in 1870 that Mussorgsky met artist and architect Viktor Hartmann. Both men were devoted to the cause of an intrinsically Russian art and quickly became friends. Their meeting was likely arranged by the influential critic Vladimir Stasov who followed both of their careers with interest. Mussorgsky based his musical material on drawings and watercolours by Hartmann produced mostly during the artist’s travels abroad. Locales include Poland, France and Italy; the final movement depicts an architectural design for the capital city of Ukraine.
The first person to orchestrate the piece in its entirety was the Slovenian-born conductor and violinist Leo Funtek, who finished his version in 1922 while living and working in Finland.
The version by Maurice Ravel, also produced in 1922, represents a virtuoso effort by a master colourist. The orchestration, commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky, has proved the most popular in the concert hall and on record. Ravel omits the Promenade between “Samuel” Goldenberg und “Schmuÿle” and Limoges and applies artistic license to some particulars of dynamics and notation. Koussevitzky’s commission gave him sole conducting rights for several years. He published Ravel’s score himself and in 1930 made the first recording of it with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Conductor: Georges Prêtre Orchestra: Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai *******************************************************************
Pictures at an Exhibition (Russian: Картинки с выставки – Воспоминание о Викторе Гартмане, Kartínki s výstavki – Vospominániye o Víktore Gártmane, Pictures from an Exhibition – A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann; French: Tableaux d’une exposition) is a suite in ten movements (plus a recurring, varied Promenade) composed for piano by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky in 1874.
The suite is Mussorgsky’s most famous piano composition and has become a showpiece for virtuoso pianists. It has become further known through various orchestrations and arrangements produced by other musicians and composers, with Maurice Ravel‘s arrangement being the most recorded and performed.
Mussorgsky’s letter to Stasov, 12 June 1874, written while composing Pictures
It was probably in 1870 that Mussorgsky met artist and architect Viktor Hartmann. Both men were devoted to the cause of an intrinsically Russian art and quickly became friends. Their meeting was likely arranged by the influential critic Vladimir Stasov who followed both of their careers with interest.
Hartmann died from an aneurysm in 1873. The sudden loss of the artist, aged only 39, shook Mussorgsky along with others in Russia’s art world. Stasov helped organize an exhibition of over 400 Hartmann works in the Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, Russia in February and March 1874. Mussorgsky lent works from his personal collection to the exhibition and viewed the show in person. Fired by the experience, he composed Pictures at an Exhibition during 2–22 June 1874. The music depicts an imaginary tour of an art collection. Titles of individual movements allude to works by Hartmann; Mussorgsky used Hartmann as a working title during the work’s composition. He described the experience in a letter (see photo, right) to Stasov in June 1874:
My dear généralissime, Hartmann is seething as Boris seethed,—sounds and ideas hang in the air, I am gulping and overeating, and can barely manage to scribble them on paper. I am writing the 4th №—the transitions are good (on the ‘promenade’). I want to work more quickly and reliably. My physiognomy can be seen in the interludes. So far I think it’s well turned…
Mussorgsky based his musical material on drawings and watercolours by Hartmann produced mostly during the artist’s travels abroad. Locales include Poland, France and Italy; the final movement depicts an architectural design for the capital city of Ukraine. Today most of the pictures from the Hartmann exhibition are lost, making it impossible to be sure in many cases which Hartmann works Mussorgsky had in mind. Musicologist Alfred Frankenstein, in a 1939 article for The Musical Quarterly, claimed to have identified seven pictures by catalogue number. Two Jews: Rich, and Poor (Frankenstein suggested two separate portraits, still extant, as the basis for Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuyle), Gnomus, Tuileries (now lost), Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks (a ballet costume design), Catacombae, The Hut on Hen’s Legs (Baba Yaga), and The Bogatyr Gates.
Mussorgsky links the suite’s movements in a way that depicts the viewer’s own progress through the exhibition. Two “Promenade” movements stand as portals to the suite’s main sections. Their regular pace and irregular meter depicts the act of walking. Three untitled interludes present shorter statements of this theme, varying the mood, colour and key in each to suggest reflection on a work just seen or anticipation of a new work glimpsed. A turn is taken in the work at the “Catacombae” when the Promenade theme stops functioning as merely a linking device and becomes, in “Cum mortuis”, an integral element of the movement itself. The theme reaches its apotheosis in the suite’s finale, The Bogatyr Gates.
Cover of first edition of Pictures
As with most of Mussorgsky’s works, Pictures at an Exhibition has a complicated publication history. Although composed very rapidly, during June 1874, the work did not appear in print until 1886 (five years after the composer’s death), when an edition by the composer’s great friend Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was published. This publication, however, was not a completely accurate representation of Mussorgsky’s score, but presented an edited and revised text that nevertheless contained a number of errors and misreadings.
Only in 1931, more than half a century after the work’s composition, was Pictures at an Exhibition published in a scholarly edition in agreement with the composer’s manuscript. In 1940, the Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola published an important critical edition of Mussorgsky’s work with extensive commentary. Mussorgsky’s hand-written manuscript was published in facsimile in 1975.
Gallery of Hartmann’s pictures
The surviving works by Hartmann that can be shown with any certainty to have been used by Mussorgsky in assembling his suite, along with their titles, are as follows:
No. 5 Sketch of theatre costumes for the ballet Trilby
No. 6a Jew in a fur cap. Sandomierz
No. 6b Sandomierz Jew
No. 8 Paris catacombs
(with the figures of V. A. Hartmann, V. A. Kenel, and a guide, holding a lantern)
No. 9 The hut of Baba-Yaga on hen’s legs–clock in the Russian Style
No. 10 Project for a city gate in Kiev–main façade
Note: Mussorgsky owned the two pictures that together inspired No. 6, the ‘Two Jews’. The title of No. 6b, as provided by the Soviet editors of his letters, is «Сандомирский [еврей]» (Russian: Sandomirskiy [yevrey], Sandomierz Jew). The bracketed word yevrey (‘Hebrew’) is the sanitized form of the actual word, very likely жид (zhid or yid). Mussorgsky, like many Russian intellectuals of his day, habitually used antisemitic epithets in his correspondence.
Vladimir Stasov‘s program, identified below, and the six known extant pictures suggest that the ten pieces comprising the suite correspond to eleven pictures by Hartmann, with Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuÿle accounting for two. The five Promenade movements, consisting of an introduction and four links, are not numbered among the ten pictures. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Promenade movements are untitled in the composer’s manuscript.
The first two movements of the suite—one grand, one grotesque—find mirrored counterparts, and apotheoses, at the end. The suite traces a journey that begins at an art exhibition, but the line between observer and observed vanishes at the Catacombs when the journey takes on a different character. For all the variety individual movements display in musical invention, each springs from a kernel in the opening melody. The Promenade theme provides distinctive “cells” of two and three notes that generate themes and accompaniment figures throughout the piece.
The recording accompanying this explanation is by the Skidmore College Orchestra and provided courtesy of Musopen.
Meter: originally 11/4. Published editions alternate 5/4 and 6/4.
Tempo: Allegro giusto, nel modo russico; senza allegrezza, ma poco sostenuto
Stasov comment: 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.”
The melody and rhythm resemble Russian folk songs. The piece has simple, strong rhythms in asymmetrical meter.
The 3rd and 4th bars of the opening movement, “Promenade”. Play (help·info)
Tempo: alternating “Vivo” and “Meno mosso, pesante”
Stasov comment: “A sketch depicting a little gnome, clumsily running with crooked legs.”
Hartmann’s sketch, now lost, is thought to represent a design for a nutcracker displaying large teeth. The lurching music, in contrasting tempos with frequent stops and starts, suggests the movements of the gnome.
Stasov comment: “A medieval castle before which a troubadour sings a song.”
This movement is thought to be based on a watercolor depiction of an Italian castle, and is portrayed in Ravel’s orchestration by an alto saxophone solo. Hartmann often placed appropriate human figures in his architectural renderings to suggest scale.
Stasov comment: “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 for scale (see note on No. 2 above).
The movement is cast in through-composed ternary form (ABA).
Stasov comment: “A Polish cart on enormous wheels, drawn by oxen.”
The movement is cast in through-composed ternary form (ABA) with coda. Mussorgsky’s original piano version of this movement begins fortissimo (ff), suggesting that the lumbering oxcart’s journey begins in the listener’s foreground. After reaching a climax (con tutta forza) the dynamic marking is abruptly piano (bar 47), followed by a diminuendo to a final pianississimo (ppp), suggesting the oxcart receding into the distance. Arrangements based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s edition, such as Ravel’s, begin quietly, build gradually (crescendo) to fortissimo, and then undergo a diminuendo, suggesting the oxcart approaching, passing the listener, and then receding.
Stasov comment: “Two Jews: Rich and Poor” (Russian: Два еврея: богатый и бедный)
Stasov’s explanatory title elucidates the personal names used in Mussorgsky’s original manuscript. Published versions display various combinations, such as “Two Polish Jews, Rich and Poor (Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle)”. The movement is thought to be based on two separate extant portraits.
Meter: originally 11/4. Published editions alternate 5/4, 6/4, and 7/4.
Tempo: Allegro giusto, nel modo russico; poco sostenuto.
A nearly bar-for-bar restatement of the opening promenade. Differences are slight: condensed second half, block chords voiced more fully. Structurally the movement acts as a reprise, giving listeners another hearing of the opening material before these are developed in the second half of the suite. Many arrangements, including Ravel’s orchestral version, omit this movement.
Tempo: “Largo” (Sepulcrum) “Andante non troppo con lamento” (Con mortuis)
Stasov comment: “Hartmann represented himself examining the Paris catacombs by the light of a lantern.”
The movement is in two distinct parts. Its two sections consist of a nearly static Largo consisting of a sequence of block chords, with elegiac lines adding a touch of melancholy, and a more flowing, gloomy “Andante” that introduces the “Promenade” theme into the scene.
The first section’s alternating loud and soft chords evoke the grandeur, stillness, and echo of the catacombs. The second section suggests a merging of observer and scene as the observer descends into the catacombs. Mussorgsky’s manuscript of The Catacombs displays two pencilled notes, in Russian: “NB – Latin text: With the dead in a dead language” and, along the right margin, “Well may it be in Latin! The creative spirit of the dead Hartmann leads me towards the skulls, invokes them; the skulls begin to glow softly from within.”
No. 9 “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs”
(Russian: Избушка на курьих ножках (Баба-Яга) [Izbushka na kuryikh nozhkakh (Baba-Yagá)])
Tempo: “Allegro con brio, feroce” and “Andante mosso”
Stasov comment: “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.”
A scherzo feroce with a slower middle section. Motives in this movement evoke the bells of a large clock and the whirlwind sounds of a chase. Structurally the movement mirrors the grotesque qualities of “Gnomus” on a grand scale.
Tempo: “Maestoso, con grandezza” and broadening to the end.
Stasov comment: “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.”
Bogatyrs are heroes that appear in Russian epics called bylinas. The title of this movement is commonly translated as “The Great Gate of Kiev” and sometimes as “The Heroes’ Gate at Kiev.”
Hartmann designed a monumental gate for Tsar Alexander II to commemorate the monarch’s narrow escape from an assassination attempt on April 4, 1866. Hartmann regarded his design as the best work he had done. His design won the national competition but plans to build the structure were later cancelled.
The movement features a grand main theme that exalts the opening promenade much as “Baba Yaga” amplified “Gnomus”; also like that movement it evens out the meter of its earlier counterpart. The solemn secondary theme is based on a baptismal hymn from the repertory of Russian Orthodoxchant.
The movement is cast as a broad rondo in two main sections: ABAB|CADA. The first half of the movement sets up the expectation of an ABABA pattern. The interruption of this pattern with new music just before its expected conclusion gives the rest of the movement the feeling of a vast extension. This extended leave-taking acts as a coda for the suite as a whole.
A Main Theme (forte); tempo Maestoso
B Hymn Theme (piano) (A-flat minor)
A Main Theme (forte); descending and ascending scale figures suggest carillons.
B Hymn Theme (piano) (E-flat minor)
C Interlude/Transition (forte); “Promenade” theme recalled. Suggestions of clockwork, bells, ascent.
A Main Theme (fortissimo); tempo Meno mosso, sempre maestoso. Triplet figuration.
D Interlude/Transition (mezzo forte with crescendo). Triplets.
A Main Theme (fortissimo); tempo Grave, Sempre allargando. It slows to a standstill by the final cadence.
Recording of the original manuscript
In 2014 the Russian pianist Andrej Hoteev presented (in a CD recording) a performance of “Pictures at an Exhibition” based on original manuscripts he consulted in the Russian National Library at St.Petersburg. Hoteev found numerous discrepancies with conventional sheet music editions.  He believes his recorded version expresses the composer’s original intent. The most important deviations are documented with illustrations from the manuscripts in the accompanying CD booklet.
Arrangements and interpretations
The opening bars of Tushmalov’s orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition.
The first musician to arrange Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for orchestra was the Russian composer and conductor Mikhail Tushmalov. However, his version (first performed in 1891 and possibly produced as early as 1886 when he was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov) does not include the entire suite: Only seven of the ten “pictures” are present, leaving out Gnomus, Tuileries, and Bydło, and all the Promenades are omitted except for the last one, which is used in place of the first.
The next orchestration was undertaken by the British conductor Henry Wood in 1915. He recorded a few sections of his arrangement on a pair of acoustic Columbia 78rpm discs in 1920. However, he withdrew his version when Maurice Ravel‘s orchestration was published and banned every public performance in the 1930s in deference to Ravel’s work. Wood’s arrangement has also been recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Nicholas Braithwaite and issued on the Lyrita label. It omits all but the first of the Promenade-based movements and features extensive re-composition elsewhere. Wood’s orchestration was once described by Gordon Jacob as “superior in picturesqueness to the Ravel”, with its off-stage camel-bells in “Bydlo” and grand organ in “The Great Gate of Kiev”.
The first person to orchestrate the piece in its entirety was the Slovenian-born conductor and violinist Leo Funtek, who finished his version in 1922 while living and working in Finland.
The version by Maurice Ravel, produced in 1922 on a commission by Serge Koussevitzky, represents a virtuoso effort by a master colourist. The orchestration has proved the most popular in the concert hall and on record. Ravel omitted the Promenade between “Samuel” Goldenberg und “Schmuÿle” and Limoges and applied artistic license to some particulars of dynamics and notation. His instrumental colors—a trumpet solo for the opening Promenade, dark woodwind tones for passages suggesting Orthodox chant, the piccolo and high strings for the children’s “chicks in shells”—are widely admired. The influence of Ravel’s version may often be discerned in subsequent versions of the suite.
Koussevitzky’s commission, worked out with the publishers of the piano suite, gave him sole conducting rights for several years. He published Ravel’s score himself and in 1930 made the first recording of it with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The exclusive nature of his commission prompted the release of a number of contemporary versions by other arrangers until Ravel’s became generally available.
The original publisher of Mussorgsky’s piano suite, W. Bessel & Co. rushed to produce an orchestral version of its own after Ravel’s proved popular. The publisher had passed on the opportunity to publish Ravel’s arrangement, seeing no great commercial advantage in printing a score and set of parts for large orchestra; it had granted Koussevitzky permission to commission the setting and publish the score himself on the condition that no one else be allowed to perform it. Bessel turned to a Ravel student, 21-year-old Russian-born pianist Leonidas Leonardi (1901–1967), a.k.a. Leon Leonardi or Leonid Leonardi, to create an orchestral version that could meet the now burgeoning demand and help the publisher regain some of its lost advantage. Leonardi’s orchestration requires even larger forces than the version made by his mentor. The young pianist dedicated his setting of the suite to Igor Stravinsky and conducted the premiere in Paris with the Lamoureux Orchestra on 15 June 1924. The US premiere took place on 4 December 1924 when the New York Symphony Orchestra performed it under the baton of Walter Damrosch. Regardless, Leonardi’s orchestration was soon eclipsed by Ravel’s, and today only the third Promenade and “Tuileries” movement of his version may be heard on audio record (Leonard Slatkin/Saint Louis Symphony: The Slatkin Years: 6 CD Set).
Another arrangement appeared when Eugene Ormandy took over the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1936 following Leopold Stokowski‘s decision to resign the conductorship. Ormandy wanted a version of Pictures of his own and commissioned Lucien Cailliet, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s ‘house arranger’ and player in the woodwind section, to produce one. This version was premiered and recorded by Ormandy in 1937. Walter Goehr published a version in 1942 for smaller forces than Ravel but curiously dropped Gnomus altogether and made Limoges the first “picture”.
The conductor Leopold Stokowski had introduced Ravel’s version to Philadelphia audiences in November 1929; ten years later he produced his own very free orchestration (incorporating much re-composition), aiming for what he called a more ‘Slavic’ orchestral sound instead of Ravel’s more ‘Gallic’ approach. Stokowski revised his version over the years and made three gramophone recordings of it (1939, 1941 and 1965). The score, finally published in 1971, has since been recorded by other conductors, including Matthias Bamert, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Oliver Knussen and José Serebrier.
Although Ravel’s version is most often performed and recorded, a number of conductors have made their own changes to the scoring, including Arturo Toscanini, Nikolai Golovanov and Djong Victorin Yu. Conductor and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy has produced his own orchestral arrangement, expressing dissatisfaction with Ravel’s interpretive liberties and perpetuation of early printing errors. The conductor Leonard Slatkin has performed ‘compendium’ versions, in which each Promenade and “picture” is interpreted by a different orchestral arranger.
Many other orchestrations and arrangements of Pictures have been made. Most show debts to Ravel; the original piano composition is, of course, frequently performed and recorded. A version for chamber orchestra exists, made by Taiwanese composer Chao Ching-Wen. Elgar Howarth arranged it for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble in 1977, subsequently recasting it for Grimethorpe Colliery Band. Kazuhito Yamashita wrote an adaptation for solo classical guitar. Excerpts have also been recorded, including a 78 rpm disc of The Old Castle and Catacombs orchestrated by Sir Granville Bantock, and a spectacular version of The Great Gate of Kiev was scored by Douglas Gamley for full symphony orchestra, male voice choir and organ. The Amadeus Orchestra (UK), taking a page from Leonard Slatkin‘s ‘compendium’ approach, commissioned ten composers to orchestrate one movement each to make a version first performed complete in 2012. Movements were provided by Alastair King, Roger May, Tolib Shakhidi, David Butterworth, Philip Mackenzie, Simon Whiteside, Daryl Griffiths, Natalia Villanueva, James McWilliam and Julian Kershaw.
The suite has inspired homages in a broad range of musical styles. A version featured in two albums by the British trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer incorporates elements of progressive rock, jazz and folk music (1971/2008). An electronic music adaptation by Isao Tomita was done in 1975. A heavy metal arrangement of the entire suite was released by German band Mekong Delta; another metal band, Armored Saint, utilised the “Great Gate of Kiev” theme as an introduction for the track “March of the Saint”. In 2002 electronic musician-composer Amon Tobin paraphrased “Gnomus” for the track “Back From Space” on his album Out from Out Where. In 2003 guitarist-composer Trevor Rabin released an electric guitar adaptation of “Promenade” originally intended for the Yes album Big Generator and later included on his demo album 90124. In 2005 Animusic 2 included a track entitled “Cathedral Pictures”. Based on the Emerson, Lake, & Palmer version, “Cathedral Pictures” included only the first Promenade and the final two movements from the suite. The Michael Jackson song ‘HIStory’ samples a short section of the Great Gate Of Kiev, longer version was played during HIStory World Tour finale in 1997. Re-issues of the HIStory album further changed the sample on the track.
A partial listing of orchestral arrangements of Pictures at an Exhibition:
Mikhail Tushmalov (ca. 1886; three “pictures” and four Promenades omitted: recorded by Marc Andrae and the Munich Philharmonic for BASF)
Henry Wood (1915; four Promenades omitted: recorded by Nicholas Braithwaite and the London Philharmonic for Lyrita)
Giuseppe Becce (1922; for “salon-orchestra”. No Promenades are included at all, and only some of the Pictures.)
Leonidas Leonardi (1924; published by Breitkopf & Härtel; Leonard Slatkin has “revived” a part of the Leonardi version by using Promenade III & Tuileries in his 1st “compendium” suite of “Pictures at an Exhibition”)
Lucien Cailliet (1937: recorded by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra for RCA and reissued on Biddulph)
Leopold Stokowski (1939; third Promenade, Tuileries, fifth Promenade and Limoges omitted. Three recordings conducted by Stokowski himself: with the Philadelphia Orchestra, All-American Youth Orchestra, and New Philharmonia. His arrangement has also been recorded by Matthias Bamert, Jose Serebrier, Oliver Knussen, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, James Sedares and Kazuki Yamada)
Walter Goehr (1942; Gnomus omitted; includes a subsidiary part for piano)
Sergei Gorchakov (1954: recorded by Kurt Masur and the London Philharmonic for Teldec; Also recorded with Karl Anton Rickenbacher, conducting the Cracow Radio Symphony, for the RCA Records. A live 1980 performance by the Leningrad Academic Symphony Orchestra under Konstantin Simeonov was recorded by Melodya.)
Nikolai Golovanov (A heavily edited version of Ravel’s orchestration in which Golovanov omits all but the first of the Promenades was recorded for Melodya)
Lawrence Leonard (1977; for piano and orchestra; recorded by Tamas Ungar, piano, with Geoffrey Simon and the Philharmonia Orchestra for Cala)
Vladimir Ashkenazy (1982: recorded by Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia Orchestra for Decca/London)
An arrangement of “Promenade” is used as the main theme to the British sitcom The New Statesman.
During Season 2, Episode 9 of the animated sitcom, BoJack Horseman, “Promenade” plays in the background of Princess Carolyn’s daydream.
“Promenade” is featured as part of the soundtrack to the educational physics game series The Incredible Machine (series) under the title “Pictures (at an Exhibition)”.
In the 1991 film Cape Fear, the music of was heavily influenced by several portions of Mussorgsky’s work, although it was credited to composer Bernard Herrmann and reworked by fellow composer Elmer Bernstein.