MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition / BORODIN: Polovtsian Dances

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Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (1839- 1881)


Pictures at an Exhibition


1. Gnomus


2. The Old Castle


3. The Tuilleries

4. Bydlo


5. Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells

6. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle

7. Limoges: The Market Place

8. Catacombae -Cum mortuis in lingua mortua

9. The Hut on Fowl's legs

10. The Great Gate of Kiev


Night on the Bare Mountain


Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin (1833 -1887)


Polovtsian Dances (from Prince Igor)


In the Steppes of Central Asia


The later nineteenth century was the great age ofnationalism in Russia, a period in which the Russian language became a fitvehicle for the work of great novelists and poets and in which music soughtdevelopment through recourse to Russian traditions, sacred and secular. Therewas a curious ambivalence, apparent in music as elsewhere in the cultural andpolitical life of the country. On the one hand Western Europe seemed to offer amodel to follow, the course embraced by Anton Rubinstein and composers of a morecosmopolitan turn of mind: on the other hand Russia was seen as the saviour of Europe,with a messianic role opposed to the decadent West.


The Five, the group of Russian nationalist composersunder the leadership of

Balakirev, nick-named by the polymath librarian Stasov"the Mighty Handful", involved themselves in the creation of a trulyRussian form of music. Balakirev himself deplored the foundation of what he sawas German-style conservatories, established in St. Petersburg and Moscow in the1860s by the Rubinstein brothers, but it was difficult to defend his followersagainst a charge of amateurism or dilettantism. While Balakirev himself hadmusical training and was a musician by profession, apart from a briefinterruption of his career, when religious melancholia induced him to work forthe state railways. Rimsky-Korsakov, who was to acquire considerable technicalskill, particularly in orchestration, was at first a naval officer; Cesar Cuiwas a professor of military fortification; Borodin was a research chemist, andMussorgsky, when he left the army, became a monstrously incompetent and unreliablecivil servant.


Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was born in 1839, the son ofa land-owner. As a young officer he had musical ambitions, and without anytraining in composition tried his hand at an opera, as well as lessercompositions for the entertainment of his friends. It was a meeting with Cuiand with the composer Dargomizhsky that led him to a more influentialassociation with Balakirev and Stasov.

After leaving the army, Mussorgsky held various positionsin the civil service.

At his death in 1881, the result of epilepsy induced byalcoholism, he left a great deal unfinished, including the opera Khovanshchina,later completed by Rimsky-Korsakov, who took it upon himself to serve asmusical executor to both Mussorgsky and Borodin. His great Russian opera BorisGodunov was to be revised by Rimsky-Korsakov, who applied his technicalabilities to smoothing out apparent crudities in this and other works.


Pictures at an Exhibition, a set of piano pieces writtenin 1874, is intensely original in its use of texture, and has lent itself wellenough to re- arrangement for all the colour of a full orchestra, as here inthe most famous orchestration of the work by Maurice Ravel The workcommemorates an exhibition of the work of the artist Victor Hartmann, who haddied a year before, the exhibits linked by a Promenade, with which the workopens. The first picture is a design for nut-crackers in the shape of a gnome,and the second of an old castle, before the gates of which a troubadour sings.

The visitor moves on to a picture of the Tuilleries Gardens, where childrenquarrel and play and nursemaids gossip, and this is followed by a picture of aPolish peasant ox-cart, its heavy wooden wheels slowly turning.


The Promenade leads now to a costume sketch for children,chickens in their shells, with arms and legs protruding, and to a picture oftwo Jews, one rich and one poor, a present from Hartmann to the composer, whoinvented his own names for the two represented. In the market at Limoges oldwomen gossip, discussing the fate of an escaped cow and more trivial nonsense,as Mussorgsky suggested.


The Catacombs, subtitled Sepulchrum Romanum, are lit by aflickering lamp.

The skulls stacked on each side begin to glow, lit fromwithin, as the music sets out to suggest the eerie scene, with the dead, in thelanguage of the dead. The macabre continues in the clock in the form of a huton fowl's legs, the hut of the Russian witch Baba Yaga, who crunches the bonesof her victims and flies through the night on a pestle.


The triumphant conclusion shows a design for the GreatGate at Kiev, a monument to commemorate the escape of Tsar Alexander II fromthe hands of assassins in 1866. The music contrasts the solemnity of aliturgical procession with the massive domes and columns of the projectedgateway.


The origin of the orchestral piece Night on the Bare Mountainlies in music written for a play, The Witch, by a friend from Mussorgsky's timein the army.

The composer later had the idea of writing an opera on astory by Gogol, St. John's Eve. In 1867, dismissed for the moment from thecivil service, he found the leisure to write an orchestral work based on thematerial he had composed to depict a witches' sabbath, held on the eve of theFeast of St. John, at mid-summer, on Bare Mountain. Mussorgsky was to make useof the same music five years later for an abortive stage-work, in which hecollaborated with Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Cui.


As seems usual on these occasions, the witches'celebration starts with relative decorum, before proceeding to morecharacteristic activities. Throughout Mussorgsky derives his inspiration fromRussian folk-song, an element never far from the musical idiom he employed.


Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin was the illegitimate sonof a Georgian prince, his name and patronymic taken, ac
Item number 8550051
Barcode 4891030500518
Release date 12/01/1999
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Borodin, Alexander Porfir’Yevich
Mussorgsky, Modest Petrovich
Borodin, Alexander Porfir’Yevich
Mussorgsky, Modest Petrovich
Conductors Nazareth, Daniel
Nazareth, Daniel
Orchestras Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
Disc: 1
Polovtsian Dances
1 Promenade
2 Gnomus
3 Promenade
4 The Old Castle
5 Promenade
6 The Tuilleries
7 Bydlo
8 Promenade
9 Ballet of the Chickens
10 Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle
11 Limoges: The Market Place
12 Catacombae
13 Con mortuis in lingua mortua
14 The Hut on Fowl's Legs
15 The Great Gate of Kiev
16 St. John's Night on Bald Mountain, "A Night on the
17 In the Steppes of Central Asia
18 Polovtsian Dances
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