Paintings from an Exhibition and Mussorgsky


Imagine a life with colors and sound, or even close your ears for ten seconds and close your eyes. A deep silence, a deep darkness will welcome you. You will probably see how cold, how restless, how lifeless your life is and you will probably open your eyes and then your ears. 

That's why sounds and images give us life and promise vitality, peace and happiness. Plato music; That's why he said that the mind has wings, that it blows the imagination, that it adds beauty to life and everything.

Of course, this discovery made by man based on himself would also find a meaning in the world of artists. Artists, who were influenced by each other's creative fields, used the same definitions in their own different arts.

The movements we are familiar with from visual arts to music; Renaissance music, baroque music, classical music, rococo music, romantic music, impressionist music, minimal music.

Artists, who see the world we live in as a single and whole state of truth, therefore prefer not to separate the types of art from each other. As we see in the relationship between music and painting, everything is variations of a whole, and it was art and artists who found and extracted it.

One of the most important works where music and painting meet in this union is the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, Paintings from an Exhibition (Kartinkis vistavki – Pictures at an Exhibition).  

In order to look at a painting and create the symphony, or to listen to the symphony and create the painting, it was necessary to go beyond hearing and seeing. The artist, who managed to see with his instincts, was able to talk to the work and respond to its language with his own artistic language.

Mussorgsky was responding to the piano piece 'Paintings from an Exhibition' with 10 piano suites, which he created separately for each of them, influenced by the paintings of the painter Victor Hartmann.

The story of the emergence of this work began with the introduction of Mussorgsky and Hartmann by the art critic Vladimir Stasov in 1862. Victor Hartman; He was an architect, painter and designer. Mussorgsky is 19th century. He was among its pioneering composers, called the Russian Fives. Both were brilliant and creative artists working for the development of Russian art. 

Hartman's death in 1873 came as a shock to both Mussorgsky and the Russian people. An exhibition of landscape paintings, costume designs and other watercolor works from his trips abroad was planned in 1874 in memory of the artist after this sudden and sad death.

Mussorgsky's piano composition, which made him more famous than any of his works, emerged as a result of the influence of Hartmann's paintings. For the participants who will visit the exhibition, 10 paintings and 10 suites were matched. The content of these pairings was printed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1874) from the Russian Five.

While completing his work, Mussorgsky was inspired by Hartmann's mood as well as the paintings. Presenting this mood to the audience both visually and audibly, the artist turned the exhibition into a unique experience. 

A melody, whose rhythm and emotions are constantly changing, and the fantastic paintings that followed, fascinated people at the end of the exhibition. Considering the transition times from one painting to another, the composer uses the 'navigation' (promenade) chapters and achieved a wholeness with the tables he chose and the order of the subjects. Before looking at the parts and table pairings of the piece, you can listen to the piece from the London Symphony Orchestra with Ravel's arrangement via the link below:

Visitors are greeted with a magnificent and renewed theme, the "promenade" part that sounds when approaching the first painting continues at regular intervals throughout the work.

The first artifact seen after this welcome is Gnomus.

Latin "gnome" is used in Turkish to mean "dwarf" or "broken leg". This work represents a carved wooden nutcracker in the shape of a strange "gnome" with bent legs and an unsettling appearance.

Critic Vladimir Stasov tells us that this sketch was inspired by a nutcracker design:

“a fantastically lame figure on crooked little legs”

Gnomus greets its audience with a disturbing motif that appears again and again, alternating with an acoustic transition of the mysterious character. Perhaps Mussorgsky complements the theme of his music with this restless and somewhat frightening limp dwarf and the rhythmic but uneven theme of his music. However, neither the painting nor the toy in the exhibition catalog has survived to the present day. 

The exhibition continues with the second work, the Old Castle (Il Vecchio Castello). The original painting that inspired Mussorgsky is still missing. Depicted below is a picture of the Chernomor castle from Ruslan and Lyudmila, a famous Russian poem by Alexander Pushkin. He describes Stasov Hartmann's castle as “A Medieval castle with a troublesome singing”. It is said that Hartmann was inspired by a beautiful rustic castle he drew when he visited Italy.

next time Tuileries   (Tuileries Gardens: Kids After Play) there is.

In the exhibition tour accompanied by music, there is a work that depicts joyful children playing and discussing in the Tuileries garden in Paris, but this work is no longer available, and to inspire you to this study, the "children" that Manet painted in the Tuileies Garden in the same place. '' table is included.

Children in the Tuileries Garden – Édouard Manet

In his work, he continued in a very lively and rhythmic structure with the influence of the children he saw in Mussosgsky. The rhythms, which, if listened carefully, give the impression of saying a child's nursery rhyme, do not stay in place like children do, with their transition from mood to mood and fast-flowing melody.

The exhibition continues with the Bydlo (oxcart). According to Stasov, Hartmann's painting represents an ox pulled by oxen belonging to a Polish peasant family. To those who listen to Mussorgsky, this painting represents the slow and sad passing of great wheels driven by oxen. Although it is dramatized with tones of sorrow and pain from time to time, it presents the harmony of strong contrasts. Unfortunately, this work has not survived.

Next up is Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks 'Dance of unhatched chicks' There is a table.

Victor Hartmann – Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks

He made 17 sketches for Victor Hartmann's ballet “Trilby”, which is based on the short story of the French writer Charles Nodier. This study is one of them. In the ballet scene, the rushing of the chicks (children) who have not yet fully hatched from their eggs, their cheerful and hectic states are featured. Mussorgsky brings out this flutter, excitement and joy with high-pitched pawn strokes. The calm melody of the flapping wings with its fine feathers Samuel Goldberg and Schmuyle ends with the transition.

These paintings were gifted by Hartmann at Mussosgsky. Hartmann had seen and painted portraits of these two Poles while traveling in the small Polish town of Sandomir. The drawings of two Jewish men represent two opposing social classes: one rich, self-confident, imposing, and the other the poor, fragile, and weak.

Mussorgsky transformed this situation into a conversation in his work. The composer represented the rich Jewish man with clear and emphatic precise strokes, and the sad old Jewish man with a more vaguely almost tearful tone.

With the composer's experience in musical theater and his extraordinary ability to design brilliant musicals of real-life characters, "Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle” had helped create unique images in it.

The exhibition continues with the Catacombae (Rock Tomb).

Victor Hartmann, Paris Catacombs. Watercolor

According to Stasov's description, this painting depicted Hartmann himself and his friend Vasily. The skulls on the right showed us the silence of the dark and dark death with a weak lantern light.

When the composer came to this painting, he was telling a lot about himself in the piece he created. During this period, he had lost his mother, Hartmann and his lover, and this picture made a lot of sense for him.

This suite reflects the tones of death and life. 

The alternating high and soft chords of the first part evoke the grandeur of the tombs, as well as their stillness and echo.

The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Hut on chicken feet/Baba-YagaWhat is the Baba-Yaga Myth?

Victor Hartmann, Baba-Yaga's Hut on Chicken Feet

Baba-Yaga is a depiction of an ugly sorceress with a chicken leg and beak from Slavic Mythology.

In this drawing, Hartmann drew a typical Russian model of the clock on chicken feet and made reference to the Baba Yaga tale.

In the tale, the frighteningly ugly Baba Yaga (sorcerer) is a witch who eats people living deep in the forest.

As if describing the drawing exactly, Mussorgsky's expression begins with hard strokes and a stormy introduction.

It continues with fast chasing rhythms describing the successive movement of the clock. This mysterious melody continues throughout the suite.

The latest inspiring work on Mussosgsky It is the Kiev Gate.
(The Great Gate of Kiev)

Victor Hartmann, Kiev City Gate Design

The door seen in the drawing is Tsar II. He was inspired by the design to be made for the city as a result of the competition held to commemorate Alexander's liberation from the assassination attempt in Kiev in 1866.

Hartmann's famous 'Kiev Gate' design depicts an official ceremony over which priests sing hymns and bells ring. These influences continue in Mussorgsky's work. It integrates with the greatness of Hartmann's work with the sounds of bells and divine motifs reflecting the splendor of the door. The work ends with the final and flamboyant part.

Art is the state of man creating a new reality space for himself, and more importantly, recreating himself. Of course, this creation process is a long journey related to what we listen to, what we see and what we feel. As Goethe said on this journey, everything and every sense of art accompanied by a sense of music We are trying to complete.


*İlhan, Ayşe Çakır, Music-Visual Arts Relationship, V.1, S.2, 2014
*AYDINOĞLU, Ortaç, Representation in Music, Article
* Cristea, Ana, Pianistic Mastery of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition Developing Association Thinking Through Analysis of Musical Texture


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