A brief history about Pictures at an Exhibition

Composer of Pictures at an African Exhibition, Modest Mussourgsky.

Pictures at an Exhibition was composed for piano by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874.  It was composed in commemoration of the Russian artist Viktor Hartmann who had suddenly passed away the year before due to an aneurysm.  After Hartmann's death, their mutual friend Vladimir Stasov organized an exhibition of over 400 of the artist's works, which Mussorgsky attended in person.  Most of the musical material was inspired by eleven works by Hartmann, which focus on his travels abroad in France, Italy, Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine. The end result was a ten movement suite (not including the promenades).  Although it was composed very quickly in 1874, it wasn't officially published until 1886, five years after Mussorgsky's death.  It was later orchestrated for orchestra, first done in 1891 although only seven of the ten movements were done.  Other arrangements were done by many others including Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, Henry wood and Leon Funtek, who was the first to orchestrate the work in its entirety, but the most notable version was the one done by the French Composer Maurice Ravel in 1922.  While it has come under criticism it has influenced many orchestration endeavors of the piano piece after it and up to the present day.


Parallels and differences between the works


  • Both works were originally written for a smaller ensemble prior to being orchestrated for a larger ensemble.  In Pictures at an Exhibition, the original work was written for piano.  For Pictures at an African Exhibition the original work was written for a double drum jazz quintet comprised of saxophone, piano, bass, and two drummers.
  • The opening theme for both works is played by a solo instrument and appears regularly through the piece.  In Mussorgsky's work it is the promenade, which appears five times.  
  • The use of unusual instruments.  The alto saxophone, used very sparingly in classical music at the time, is made famous in Ravel's orchestration of the piece, playing the solo in "The old castle."  In Pictures at an African Exhibition there are a few unusual instruments for jazz.  The oboe and English horn are featured prominently in the arrangements, as well as the bassoon, and the french horn.  
  • The collaboration between art and music inspiring one another.  



  • The main theme (the promenade in Mussorgsky's work) is used a little differently.  The promenade appears five times in Pictures at an Exhibition.  I loosely based the idea around this concept, but a little differently.  First, there are three short interludes (or promenades if you will) that are First Sunrise, Ominous Nightfall, and Blessings from the Bennu.  They are more like introductions into the works that follow, so in reality I wrote ten movements, the same as Mussorgsky did in his work.  Also, many of the compositions I wrote are based off the opening theme of First Sunrise and can be heard in different tonalities such as The Birth of Swing, Echoes of Ancient Sahara, and Cry, the beloved country.  And I suppose one can hear it have influences in Ubuntu and Hunting Natives as well!
  • The conceptual use of the art is a little different.  Mussorgsky was deeply affected by the death of his companion, Viktor Hartmann and composed the musics being inspired by the artwork of his friend.  In Pictures at an African Exhibition I composed all the music first, and then sent the music to David Emmanuel Noel, who then created works of art to the music he was hearing so in essence the inspirational impetus has originated a bit backwards from Mussorgsky's work.  
  • Mussorgsky's work was arranged for orchestra by many people, but most notably by Maurice Ravel.  For Pictures at an African Exhibition it was composed and arranged by myself, and it is orchestrated for a wind ensemble instead.