Tag Archives: Mussorgsky Mondays

Mussorgsky Mondays – The Art of Natasha Turovsky, Part 1

Natasha Turovsky

I happened to come upon a contemporary artist who loves Mussorgsky at least as much as I do. Her name is Natasha Turovsky, and this week and next, I will be posting links to two of her YouTube pages where she has put a lot of her paintings (and original Viktor Hartmann pieces) to the music of Pictures at an Exhibition. Her stuff is beautiful, in a surrealist sort of way. Check out her stuff and tell her I said hi. Maybe I’ll run into her some day. I think we’d have a lot to talk about…


Art of Natasha Turovsky – Pictures at an Exhibition, Part 1

Mussorgsky Mondays – The Influence of Viktor Hartmann


Anyone who has done any research into the composition of Pictures at an Exhibition knows that this masterpiece was based on Mussorgsky’s experience of visiting a posthumous art exhibition featuring various paintings and other works created by his good friend, Viktor Hartmann. Many of the original pictures are lost to posterity, but there are many good sources about the various pieces that still exist and good conjecture about the ones that are gone. I found the linked article particularly illuminating as I was writing the story. I didn’t always keep to the facts, for at times the story all but demanded I take some dramatic license, but many of the basics are found here. Take a look. These paintings and others like them were what prompted a master to compose one of the most immortal pieces of music ever crafted. Also, show the writer of the article some love, if you will.

The Influence of Viktor Hartmann.

Mussorgsky Mondays – Scheherazade, played by the Vienna Philharmonic


If Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition provides the setting and plot of my upcoming novel, The Mussorgsky Riddle, then Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade provides the character.

As psychic Mira Tejedor invades young Anthony Faircloth’s mind again and again in an effort to free him from his self-imposed prison, she adopts the guise and abilities of Scheherazade, the storyteller from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. The “Scheherazade theme,” heard first at the one minute mark of the video below, is the melody in the story that comes back again and again, bringing Mira to Anthony’s aide throughout the novel. Whether hummed from the comatose boy’s mouth, or echoing through the grand Exhibition his mind has created to protect him from a far too cruel world, this theme is his saving grace, as is Mira herself.

Listen to the entire piece when you have opportunity. Just as Mussorgsky returns to the “Promenade” theme throughout Pictures at an Exhibition as the unifying melody, so does Rimsky-Korsakov use the storyteller’s solo “violin voice” to provide the musical throughline for Scheherazade. If the whole piece is her telling the Arabian Nights, then the violin moments are her taking a breather between stories and letting the listener hear her own voice. Brilliant, no?

And just as “Promenade” is different throughout Pictures at an Exhibition, so is Scheherazade’s theme different each time it’s heard. Cautious the first time, solemn the second, impetuous the third. Listen as she and the Sultan argue as the 4th movement begins, and more importantly, how they come to an understanding at the end of the piece. I wish I could write with words half as deftly as Rimsky-Korsakov writes with music.

And with that I will leave you to enjoy Scheherazade, as played by the Vienna Philharmonic in 2005. They play this piece a lot faster than I’m used to hearing it, but this is still a kick ass performance.

Oh, and I totally dig the conductor’s hair.

Mussorgsky Mondays – Evgeny Kissin plays Pictures at an Exhibition



So why is this guy playing piano? Pictures at an Exhibition is a full orchestral piece, right?

Mussorgsky originally wrote Pictures as a suite for piano, and what the incomparable Evgeny Kissin is playing here is the original. This guy is pretty phenomenal. Watch his fingers move when he plays the last couple bars of Gnomus. I’m pretty sure I could practice the rest of my life and not play that two seconds of music correctly. And the end of The Marketplace at Limoges? That gets my official OMG for April (I allow myself one per month.) I guess that’s why the man has a full concert hall hanging on his every keystroke, right?

Many composers over the years have set Mussorgsky’s original piano score to a full orchestra, and none more famous than Ravel. Fear not, Ravel’s arrangement will be making appearance on this blog before long. There are a whole lot of Monday’s between now and the big release of The Mussorgsky Riddle and you should all be well versed in the music in question long before one Mira Tejedor hits the city and everything hits the fan.

By the way, if anyone can legitimately ask me why I wrote a book about this particular piece of music after watching this incredible performance, I know a couple of good psychiatrists who can help you.

And without further ado, Evgeny Kissin. (Who, ironically, was apparently born 3 months, 10 days after me…)


Mussorgsky Mondays – All Russian Night with the Charlotte Symphony


A quick aside from the talented Mr. Mussorgsky, as Charlotte Symphony brought us and all-Russian evening this weekend featuring some other greats from our brothers on the other side of the globe.

What an impressive night.

They started with a fantastic performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op. 36 (for those keeping score, Scheherazade is Op. 35 and he wrote these simultaneously as far as I know). This one was actually my favorite of the evening as it was old school RK (no, not R. Kelly) and the moving parts in the middle really, well, move. When classical can make you tap your foot, that’s pretty awesome.

Next up was Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 which showed some impressive violin playing by the night’s soloist. I wasn’t as familiar with this piece, but I enjoyed watching this unique piece being performed.

The soloist for the Prokofiev piece is normally the first violinist of the symphony and in his soloist role of the evening came back out and played a beautiful true violin solo in honor of a member of the orchestra who had recently passed. Beautiful and moving, I’m not sure what this piece was, but it was a fitting musical epitaph.

Lastly, they performed Stravinsky’s ballet, Petrouchka. A bit modern for my tastes, but still quite enjoyable. Though this was first performed in 1911, it’s amazing to me to hear how different the composition is when compared to Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and others of the previous generation. I plan to continue to check out Stravinsky and his various works, but I don’t know if they’ll ever touch my heart the way Pictures at an Exhibition has.

And with that, I bid you all a happy Monday. By the way, in case you haven’t checked out a calendar, this coming weekend is Easter. Check out the Rimsky-Korsakov piece above this week, as it is the season, and let me know what you think.

Mussorgsky Mondays – Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”


The year was 1994, and though a big fan of progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, I had never heard their version of Pictures at an Exhibition, or any version for that matter. I was Mussorgsky naive, but that all changed with their ninth–and unfortunately, final–studio album, In The Hot Seat. Ten tracks of music the likes of which they don’t make anymore, and one bonus track from their 4-disc set, The Return of the Manticore. This bonus track was their 1994 version of their 1971 work, a prog rock version Pictures at an Exhibition, and marked the first time I ever heard the “Promenade” melody, the strange tune of “The Gnome,” Greg Lake’s haunting lyrics on “The Sage,” the cavorting sounds of “Baba Yaga’s Hut,” and the triumphant ending of “The Gates of Kiev.” It was life changing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to that album, but that led to hearing the original 1971 recording, which led to seeing the Columbus Orchestra in Georgia play the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky’s piece, which led to me purchasing multiple CD’s of the work and listening till I knew every note. My love for this particular piece of music eventually led to the novel which awaits release later this year from Curiosity Quills.

In a way, this is the answer to my own particular Mussorgsky Riddle: Why write such a book? 😉

And it all began with the last track of the last studio album of one of the greatest progressive rock bands in history.

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Emerson, Lake & Palmer. (The link only includes the first two movements of the song, but you’ll get the feel for what I’m talking about. If you find the full thing on YouTube, let me know and I’ll update the link.)

Mussorgsky Mondays – A Night of Mussorgsky, courtesy of the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh, NC


Sometimes life deals you up happy little coincidences.

For instance, days after placing a novel based on one of your favorite pieces of music of all time with a fantastic publisher, one of your best friends calls and says “Hey, the North Carolina Symphony is playing Pictures at an Exhibition in two weeks. Wanna go?”

The answer? Well, of course.

Thanks to Alisa Hassinger for a great weekend and getting us our excellent box seats. Thanks also to Jewell Carr and others that held down the fort in my absence.

So, this was my third live performance of Pictures at an Exhibition.

The first was years ago, in Columbus, GA. (Yes, they have a symphony, and they’re quite good.) I went with my good friends Jen and Ben Frank and enjoyed the show, though at the time, I was only familiar with the Emerson, Lake & Palmer prog rock version. Still, loved the music, and a seed was planted.

The second was a last minute spontaneous drive to uptown Charlotte by myself to see the Charlotte Symphony play the piece when I was still in the midst of writing the novel in 2011. That was a great evening, and another great performance.

But last night (29 Mar 2014) was the one for the books. After spending years immersed in this piece of music, to hear the conductor come out and guarantee a “picturesque” evening was enough to get my heart racing. His description of the paintings coming alive in the music, his confidence that they had this one down, and his proclamation that Mussorgsky’s original piano piece coupled with Ravel’s orchestration made for an almost perfect piece of music all fanned the flames at my core.

And they hadn’t even played a note yet.

The trumpet solo on “Promenade,” the tight syncopation of “Gnomus,” the beautiful saxophone of “The Old Castle,” the intricate woodwinds in “Tuileries,” the crescendo/decrescendo of “Bydlo,” the near impossible feat of pulling off the “Ballet of Unhatched Chicks”, the literal lows and highs of “Goldenberg and Schmuyle,” the flight of fancy in “The Marketplace at Limoges,” the depths of despair in “The Catacombs,” the 100 years too early rock and roll of “Baba Yaga’s Hut,” and the triumph of “The Great Gates of Kiev” all came through with brilliance and passion. Well worth the drive and I’d do it again tonight if they’d play it again.

It’s rare in life that a person gets to experience “live and in person” something they are truly passionate about. After four years of working on The Mussorgsky Riddle, to see this performance was truly a celebration and as Mussorgsky “promenaded” his way through “The Bogatyr Gates” last night, I walked right through the Gates as well.

Also, not sure if they picked this piece for this date or not, but (as followers of my blog already know) two weeks ago was Modest Mussorgsky’s 175th birthday and this June will be the 140th anniversary of his completing the original score. So happy birthday again, and happy anniversary, Mr. Mussorgsky. They did you proud last night.

To the North Carolina Symphony, thank you for such a great performance. I’ll be back. Perhaps a little Rimsky-Korsakov??? 😉


Mussorgsky Mondays – Night on Bald Mountain

Mussorgsky 1881

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Mussorgsky Mondays.

The two links below will take you two different versions of the piece being discussed.

My original plan was to start us down the path of Pictures at an Exhibition, the magnum opus that was the driving force behind my upcoming novel, The Mussorgsky Riddle, but we are actually going to start with Night on Bald Mountain, which most of us know from Disney’s Fantasia – the quite possibly terrifying scene is available on Vimeo at the link (orchestrated by twentieth-century composer Leopold Stokowski, who also conducted a popular version of Pictures at an Exhibition…).

Why start with this piece? Modest Mussorgsky wrote Night on Bald Mountain in 1867, but that version is rarely played in favor of this version from 1886, which was arranged by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Most of us have at least heard this haunting melody and I must admit, it has haunted my dreams at least once.

Why does this particular combination of composers interest me so? Well… I’ll tell you. The Mussorgsky Riddle is Pictures at an Exhibition meets Scheherazade, at least from a thematic background. And who were the two composers for those two works? Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Here they are working “together” to create a piece of music that has endured for over 130 years and is still played by orchestras across the world every year.

Mussorgsky’s works are awesome in their own right, but often, he seems to gain power when another set of eyes comes behind him. Pictures at an Exhibition in particular is an example of this. Mussorgsky originally wrote Pictures as a piano piece, albeit an extremely complex one. Arranged for orchestra by many over the years, it is Ravel’s orchestration that most have heard, from symphony goers to commercial watchers to Looney Tunes fans. And at some point, I’ll bring in the first version I ever heard, from way back in my Wake Forest days, the art rock version by the band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, which first introduced me to this incredible piece of music and this extraordinary composer.

If you saw my post from last week, you’ll note that Modest Mussorgsky just “celebrated” his 175th birthday, so let’s all raise a glass (which he did on more than one occasion) and celebrate his life with his masterpiece, Night on Bald Mountain.