Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”: A Showpiece in Multiple Versions

This week, I’m once again playing the great orchestral showpiece, Pictures at an Exhibition. It’s music which was originally composed by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874 as a suite of ten virtuoso pieces for solo piano, and later transformed into shimmering orchestral technicolor by Maurice Ravel. Listening to this popular orchestral adaptation, we have the sense of two works colliding, spectacularly. The rebellious, inventive harmony and folk-inspired Russian nationalism of Mussorgsky meets the refined, impressionistic color …

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Rated R: Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin

It’s one of the scariest pieces ever written. Both shockingly violent and erotic, Béla Bartók’s “pantomime grotesque” ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin, was met with “catcalls, stamping, whistling and booing” at its premiere in Cologne, Germany in November, 1926. The ensuing scandal, which whipped up the fury of Cologne’s clergy and press, among others, caused the mayor, Konrad Adenauer (later the first chancellor of post-war West Germany) to ban the work on moral grounds. The ballet’s plot, …

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Five Musical Sunrises

Natural cycles, from the change of seasons to the predictable routine of day turning to night, shape our sense of time. Can you imagine how our perception of time, and subsequently music, would be different without these events? Nature’s visual grandeur has also been an inspiration to composers, especially the eternal drama of the sunrise. Here are five musical depictions: [typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Haydn’s “Sunrise” String Quartet[/typography] Haydn’s String Quartet in B flat …

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