Musorgsky was a proficient, but not virtuosic pianist: in his youth, he entertained society ladies with popular marches and quadrilles, and in his last years, he toured as an accompanist in song recitals. On the basis of these modest exploits, no one could have predicted his Pictures at an Exhibition. This cycle of piano pieces is a kind of travelogue, following a Russian at home and abroad. We tour around the Russian Empire and beyond, and we are also invited to contemplate the drawings of Musorgsky's friend Victor Hartmann (the work stands as a touching memorial to his art).
Drawing inspiration from the Romanticism of Schumann and Liszt, Musorgsky filtered their ideas through his own Russian Realist aesthetic, and attempted to create accurate and convincing depictions of his subjects, with their distinctive voices, behaviour and locations. His piano writing is idiosyncratic, and sometimes even awkward, but it conveys his thoughts effectively in a riot of colour and contrasts. His instinctive, empirical approach to harmony was a formative influence for Debussy, the first of the great post-Romantic piano composers.
A lecture by Marina Frolova-Walker 22 October
The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website: https://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/musorgsky-piano
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