"The universe of sounds is without limits. It is the brain that is limited...", Mussorgsky would sometimes exclaim when reproached for his cutting style of writing. According to Shostakovitch (Memoirs, edited by Solomon Volkov), "Mussorgsky's music is a characteristic and tagic example of the dangers of composing at the piano. Really tragic. He played and played, and an endless flood of music of genius was never written down. "Mussorgsky is not a classical composer, but a realistic painter, brutal, passionate, aware of the incomplete nature of his messages, but also of their novelty and their clearsightedness. A true Slav, he goes without transition from enraptured exaltation to profound dejection, from intoxication to the painful hangovers of grey, melancholy, often "Sunless" mornings. Although Pictures at an Exhibition was written in a few weeks in June and July 1874, it was published only in 1886, after the composer's death, by Bessel in Moscow in an edition by Rimsky-Kosakov. Many details were altered in the manuscript which was not published until 1930 by Lamm. The work, comparable to a song-cycle, consists of ten character-pieces interspersed with five interludes, supposed to describe in music the drawings, sketches and water-colours of his friend, the architect, draughtsman and stage-designer, Viktor Hartmann (1834-1873). The various stages of his "Journey through memory" are separated by the recurrence of a variation of the same folk-like theme, entitled "Promenade", depicting the composer himself wandering through the exhibition. The irregular metre and the differences in tone of these "Promenades" are at first humorous reflections of the corpulent figure and the unsteady gait of the composer, and then of the transformation of his state of mind that gradually substitutes itslef for his dead friend. Today the musicologists of the post-serial age agree that Mussorgsky never thought of orchestrating this series of scenes and evocations reminiscent of Schumann (Carnaval, etc.) and especially of late Liszt. The reduction for piano solo of "operatic scenes" like Limoges. The Market presents a veritable challenge to pianists who have to render successively a mood of humour, comical animation, life and colour, and finally come to grips with its concluding breadth and power. Its first oerformers were not fond of this awkward score, difficult to hold together and to vary, not very rewarding in spite of its daunting and spectacular "gaucheries" : the fairy-tale pianissimo of the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks (which Ravel remembered in Ma Mère l'Oye), the lamentoso repeated nots in Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle, the organ-like sonorities in Catacombs, the chiming of the bells, both liturgical and epic, in The Great Gate of Kiev...
Pierre-E. Barbier, translated by Derek Yeld, from the bookletPlays
Etudes tableaux, Op. 33
1 N° 4, in C minor. Moderato 3:15
2 N° 5 in E-flat minor. Presto 1:50
3 N° 8, in C-sharp minor. Grave 2:40
Etudes tableaux, Op. 39
4 N° 1, in C minor. Allegro agitato 2:50
5 N° 2, in A minor. Lento assai 7:10
6 N° 3, in F-sharp minor. Allegro molto 2:30
7. N° 4, in B minor. Allegro assai 3:15
8 N° 9, in D major. Allegro moderato 3:30
Pictures at an Exhibition
9 I. Promenade. Allegro giusto, nel modo russico,
senza allegrezza, ma poso sostenuto 1:07
10 II. No. 1 "Gnomus". Sempre vivo 2:27
11 Promenade. Moderato comodo assai
e con delicatezza 0:44
12 II. "Il vecchio castello". Andantino molto cantabile
e con dolore 4:27
13 Promenade. Moderato non tanto, pesamente 0:22
14 III. "Les Tuileries". Allegretto non troppo, capriccioso 0:57
15 IV. "Bydło". Sempre moderato, pesante 2:08
16 V. Promenade. Tranquillo 0:28
17 V. Ballet des poussins dans leur coque.
Scherzino-vivo, leggiero-trio 1:16
18 VI. "Samuel" Goldenberg und "Schmuÿle".
Andante grave, energico andantino 1:41
19 XI. Promenade. Allegro giusto, nel modo russico,
poco sostenuto 1:02
20 VII. Limoges, le marché". Allegro vivo, sempre scherzando 1:19
21. VIII. "Catacombæ" (Sepulcrum romanum). Con mortuis in lingua mortua.
Andante non troppo, con lamento 4:08
22 La Cabane sur des pattes de poule.
Allegro con brio, feroce - Andante mosso - Allegro molto 2:57
23 La Grande Porte de Kiev.
Allegro alla breve - Maestoto. Con grandezza 4:46
Recorded live in Prague, Dvořák Hall, June 2, 1984 [# 1-8] ; & November 14, 1956 [# 9-23]