Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Picture This...


This is a past Tuesday Blog from Oct-16-2012.

This post was updated to address discontinued content. 




To provide a break between the two sets of Debussy Preludes for Piano, I thought I would dig into some of the French posts I have written elsewhere, and muse a bit about Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

The story behind the work is well known – Piictures is a tribute by Mussorgsky to his late friend Viktor Hartmann, and is a suite of short pastiches that represent some of Hartmann’s artwork, assorted with “glue-like” promenades that depict Mussorgsky walking through an exhibition of Hartmann’s works.

I think it is fair to say that we have been equally exposed to the original piano suite by Musorgsky and to the very popular orchestration by Maurice Ravel. For my money, the piano original is completely satisfactory, pompous at times yes, but so personal. Here’s a link to a complete performance by pianist Alexander Ghindin:

http://traffic.libsyn.com/gardnermus...__Pictures.mp3

As it turns out, Pictures is one of those piano works that has been adapted for other instruments, and for full orchestra. I would estimate there are well-over 50 published transcriptions of the work! Leopold Stokowski (who will himself author one such transcription) suggests that even the piano version may have been tinkered with in the first place by hands other than Mussorgsky’s. Indeed, he claims that Rimsky-Korsakov may have introduced a pair of passages in 1886 ("Tuileries" and "Limoges").

Here are a few specific examples of orchestrations of the work, presented here in chronological order:

The “Father of the Proms”, Sir Henry Wood, pens his own orchestration in 1915. This version was discussed in a past Chroinique du Disque:




The most popular version of Pictures for orchestra is that penned in 1922 by Maurice Ravel under comission by Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky. In what must be viewed as a brilliant move, Koussevitzky personally published the work, giving him exclusive rights to the work for sereval years. Here is a YouTube performance of the suite :





Due to Koussevitzy’s monoply on the Ravel score, many conductors tried to have their own versions developed. One such version was commissioned by Eugene Ormandy to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s resident arranger Lucien Caillet, which Ormandy and the orchestra committed to vinyl in 1937:

Hyperlionk to an MP3 version : http://archive.org/details/Moussorgs...AtAnExhibition

Leopold Stokowski is one of the first conductors other than Koussevitzky to have performed the Ravel version (Philadelphia, 1929), but concludes the Ravel version is too French and not Slavic enough to his taste. About 10 years later, he will propose his own orchestration which – not suepeisingly – omits the “french” pictures Limogesand Tuileries:





And there are so many more… Whuich begs the question – which one is the best transcription. Conductor Leonard Slatkin, rather than answering the question, chose to approach the problem differently, choosing rather to stitch a concert suite made up of some of his favourite individual pictures from these (and other) orchestrations.

Below is a video clip of that performance, preceeded by a short documentary on the Pictures and the orchestrations, and then some words by maestro Slatkin on the podium. The actual performance begins around 18:30.


Lawrence Leonard: Promenade
Vladimir Ashkenazy: Gnome
Lucien Cailliet: Promenade
Sergei Gorchakov: The Old Castle
Leonidas Leonardi: Promenade/Les Tuileries
Sir Henry Wood: Bydlo
Lucien Cailliet: Promenade, Ballet of the chicks in their shells
Sergei Gorchakov: Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle
Lucien Cailliet: Promenade
Mikhail Tushmalov: Le marché de Limoges
Leopold Stokowski: Catacomb
Sir Henry Wood: Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua
Maurice Ravel: The Hut on Chicken Legs (Baba-Yaga)
Maurice Ravel: The Great Gate of Kiev
Encore - Sir Henry Wood: The Great Gate of Kiev


Philharmonia Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin, conducting

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