Pictures at an Exhibition
was written as a group of pieces for piano in 1874. The pictures were mainly watercolours, painted by Victor Hartman, a friend of Mussorgsky, who had died the previous year.
The piece is a musical description of walking around an exhibition of Hartman's paintings. A recurring 'Promenade' movement represents the visitor. Each of the pieces has a movement conjuring up the mood invoked by the picture, or in some cases even painting the picture in music.
Unfortunately, many of the original pictures no longer exist and Mussorgsky's music is all we have to remember them by.
The first movement is the 'Promenade', which depicts the visitor to the exhibition. This musical idea is interspersed between the earlier movements, representing the visitor walking from painting to painting. The 'Promenade' features shifting time signatures throughout, depicting the dawdling, irregular way a visitor to an exhibition would walk around. You may recognise the 'Promenade' theme as being the theme tune of the British political sit-com The New Statesman
, starring Rik Mayall.
The first picture the visitor comes to is Hartman's design for a nutcracker in the shape of a gnome. Although the painting has been lost, we can imagine, through Mussorgsky's music, that the gnome was grotesque looking.
Following the gnome there is a 'Promenade', leading to 'The Old Castle' in Italy. This piece has a medieval feel, created by the sustained bass note that runs all the way through the piece while a tune plays above.