Saturday, April 6, 2013

I Like This Program

In the majority of classical music you have music that is composed for the beauty of the music's sake. When you go to a classical symphony concert you don't have to put on your thinking caps to try and figure out what the music means or stands for.  As a patron, you just sit back and enjoy the beautiful sounds of the masters. That is why most classical music pieces don't have names or titles, like you would see in modern music.  They are just denoted by numbers, like Mozart's piano concerto #21 or Beethoven's symphony #4 or Haydn's piano sonata #5, etc.

But there were also compositions by the masters that did have names and did represent more than just music for the music's sake.  Those compositions are called program pieces.  Program pieces were written with a certain topic or idea or a particular piece of  literature in mind that the music was supposed to represent.  For example Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" was a set of  4 violin concerti, with each concerto representing one of the four seasons.  Tchaikovsky's  "Romeo and Juliet" overture was taken from the Shakespeare play of the same name.  Beethoven's "Pastoral" symphony #6, where each movement represented the beauty or danger of nature.  Aaron Copland's famous "Appalachian Spring" was an orchestral suite portraying early Americans celebration of spring.

One of my favorite program pieces, that Tales feature today, is from the Russian romantic composer Modest  Mussorgsky-"Pictures at an exhibition".  Mussorgsky exhibited much Russian romanticism in his music with this piece and also with his opera Boris Godunov and his famous orchestral suite "Night on Bald Mountain."

"Pictures at an Exhibition" was a suite in 10 movements for piano which gave the feel of walking through a Russian art museum.  He wrote this suite in honor of his friend, Russian artist and architect Viktor Hartmann.

While Mussorgsky composed this piece for the piano, it has been popularized by its orchestrations from other great composers.  The most well known and loved orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition was by the French impressionist composer Maurice Ravel.  

The piece starts out with the famous "promenade" theme that represents the patrons walking through the exhibition.  As they come to each new picture  in the museum a new movement will represent what that picture represents. That will be followed by the promenade walking to the next picture.  In that sense this piece could be called a theme and variations genre.

Listen to the mesmerizing promenade theme by Mussorsgy in piano [his composition].  Then hear the exhilarating final movement "Gates of Kiev", first Mussorgsky's original piano version and then as orchestrated by Maurice Ravel.  Please turn up the volume and enjoy selections of this program piece by Modest Mussorgsky!

Note:  while the original piano version of the piece by Mussorgsky is very good, listen to how magnificent it becomes when orchestrated by Ravel.

Modest Mussorgsky: "Pictures at an Exhibition", "Promenade" for piano:

Modest Mussorgsky: "Pictures at an Exhibition", "Gates of Kiev" for piano:

Maurice Ravel's ochestration of Modest Mussorgsky's: "Picture at an Exhibition", final movement, "Gates of Kiev":

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