Showcase March-April 2014 - page 41

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MARCH / APRIL 2014 MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA
apr 15
Program Notes
Tuileries
—a lively picture of children scampering about,
engaged in horseplay while their nannies chatter.
Bydlo
—an oxcart on giant, lumbering wheels, its driver
singing a folk song in the Aeolian mode.
Ballet of Chicks in their Shells
—cheeping baby canaries
dancing about, still enclosed in their shells, with their
wings and legs protruding.
Two Polish Jews (Samual Goldenberg and Schmuyle)
—a pair of
vividly drawn personalities: a rich man who is pompous,
self-important and arrogant; and a poor man, sniveling,
beseeching, nervous, pitiable.
Limoges (the Marketplace)
—another lively, bustling French
scene where we find the rapid chatter, babble and
arguments of housewives, with a particularly noisy fracas
during which the music plunges into…
Catacombae – Con mortuis in lingua mortua
(Catacombs –
With the dead in a dead language)—Hartmann himself,
lantern in hand, exploring the subterranean passages
of Paris, accompanied by eerie, ominous sounds. To a
distorted version of the
Promenade
theme, the music
depicts a grisly sight: “Hartmann’s creative spirit leads
me,” wrote Mussorgsky, “to the place of skulls and calls
to them – the skulls begin to glow faintly from within.”
Baba-Yaga – The Hut on Fowl’s Legs
—the Russian witch Baba
Yaga, portrayed not as Hartmann did, as a fantastic
bronze clock-face mounted on chicken legs—but in a
dizzying ride through the air in her mortar, steering with
a pestle, sailing right into...
The Great Gate of Kiev
—Hartmann’s architectural design
for a gate (never built) to commemorate Alexander II’s
narrow escape from an assassination attempt in Kiev.
Instrumentation:
3 flutes (2 doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (1 doubling English horn),
2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon,
alto saxophone, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba,
tenor tuba, timpani, bass drum, chimes, cymbals, tam-tam,
bells, ratchet, snare drum, slapstick, triangle,
xylophone, 2 harps, celesta and strings
Program notes by
Robert Markow
.
Perhaps most astonishing is that for all the popularity
Pictures
enjoys today, no public performance of the
original score is known to have been given in the
composer’s lifetime. Mussorgsky was a fine pianist,
but if he played
Pictures
at all, it was in private. The
first documented public performance took place only
in 1914, in England. Four years earlier the first known
recording had been made, a piano roll made by one
Gavriil Romanovsky.
Pictures
did not begin to acquire
popularity until Serge Koussevitzky commissioned Ravel
to orchestrate the score. Koussevitzky conducted the first
performance in Paris on May 3, 1923, at the Opéra, and
the following year introduced
Pictures
to North America
with the Boston Symphony.
a musical tribute
The circumstances leading to creation of
Pictures
are
well known: When Viktor Hartmann, an artist, designer
and sculptor, died of a heart attack in 1873, his close
friend Mussorgsky was devastated. Mussorgsky was
further plagued with guilt feelings, recalling an incident
a few months earlier that clearly showed Hartmann
had a serious health issue, about which Mussorgsky
did nothing. Following Hartmann’s death Mussorgsky
slipped into depression, which was further aggravated
by his alcoholism. Some months later Vladimir Stassov,
a music critic and friend of both Mussorgsky and
Hartmann, arranged an exhibit of about 400 of the late
artist’s works, hoping that this tribute might in some
way relieve Mussorgsky’s depression. The exhibition
opened in January 1874 at the St. Petersburg Society of
Architects, and it inspired Mussorgsky to create a suite of
musical portraits for piano, his only significant work for
this instrument.
Introduction: Promenade.
A “Promenade” theme opens an
imaginary stroll through the picture gallery, a theme that
returns several times throughout the work as the viewer
moves on to another painting or group of paintings, of
which ten are depicted:
Gnomus
—a wooden child’s toy styled after a small,
grotesque gnome with gnarled legs and erratic hopping
movements.
Il vecchio castello
—a watercolor of a troubadour singing in
front of a medieval castle, his melancholic song carried by
the alto saxophone.
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