St Petersburg, Concert Hall

The Mariinsky Brass Ensemble

Marking 175 years since the birth of Modest Musorgsky

Modest Musorgsky
Dawn on the River Moskva (introduction to the opera Khovanshchina), arrangement for brass

Symphonic fantasia Night on Bald Mountain

Pictures at an Exhibition

The Mariinsky Brass Ensemble was established in 2007. Today the Mariinsky Brass Ensemble comprises fourteen musicians who perform in the Mariinsky Orchestra under Maestro Gergiev. The ensemble tours frequently, performing in Japan, Great Britain, Austria, Switzerland and Latvia. Moreover, the ensemble participates in three festivals and has initiated the Brass Evenings at the Mariinsky festival. The ensemble’s repertoire includes works both specially written for it (Alexei Pozin’s brass suite Catalina and Oleg Oblov’s At the Party pièce musicale) and arrangements of well-known opuses by Mariinsky Theatre musicians including Аlexei Pozin, Vladislav Ivanov, Alexei Repnikov and Gleb Biryulin.


Modest Musorgsky completed the score for Night on Bald Mountain with incredible speed. The composer’s letters reveal that Night was composed in just some ten days (12 to 23 June 1867), “a clean and finished result, without drafts”. The idea of this programme symphony tableau had come to the composer ten years earlier, though it only came to fruition after hearing Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique, performed in Paris in 1866.
The composer gave a brief description of the programme on the title page of the score: “1. Assembly of the witches, their talk and gossip; 2. Satan’s journey; 3. Obscene praises of Satan; and 4. Sabbath.” Musorgsky dedicated the piece to Balakirev, though the leader of the “Mighty Five” refused to perform Night on Bald Mountain at a concert, demanding that the composer “bring the music into order.” In response, Musorgsky replied firmly and unyieldingly: “Whether or not you agree, my friend, to perform my witches, whether I am to hear them or not, I will not change anything at all in general terms or the development, both of which are closely connected with the content of the tableau…” In the event, Musorgsky was not to hear “his witches”; on two occasions he used material from this work – in the Mighty Five’s collective opera-ballet Mlada and his own final opera The Fair at Sorochintsy. It was only after the composer’s death that Night on Bald Mountain was performed in a free (loose!) adaptation by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and went on to win international renown. For many years, Musorgsky’s original score lay neglected; it was only in 1968 that it was performed in Moscow.
At a concert on 18 March 1989 at the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad as part of an anniversary festival to mark one and a half centuries since Musorgsky’s birth (and, prior to that, in Amsterdam) Valery Gergiev conducted, in one programme, the first ever Russian performance of both editions of the work – Musorgsky’s original score together with its “sanitised” adaption. Audiences familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov’s frequently-performed version, praised for its perfection of form, paid due tribute to Musorgsky’s original symphonic tableau, with its natural power that bursts forth from the framework of generally accepted canons.
Iosif Raiskin

These Pictures Are the Soul of Things!
Boris Asafiev

Musorgsky composed the piano cycle Pictures at an Exhibition in 1874 following and still impressed by the posthumous exhibition of paintings and architectural designs by Viktor Gartman (1834–1873). Stunned by the sudden demise of his friend, a talented artist and architect, Musorgsky exclaimed in a letter: “Woe, woe! Oh, Russia’s longsuffering art!” At the height of work on the series, he wrote to V. V. Stasov: “… Gartman seethes as Boris seethed – the sounds and the idea hung in the air, I swallow and eat my fill, I barely manage to make any scratches on the paper…” The whole series, begun in the very first days of June, was completed in less than three weeks: on the last page of the manuscript the date stood ready: 22 June 1874. On the title sheet Musorgsky had written “Dedicated to Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov. Pictures at an Exhibition. A Recollection of Viktor Gartman.”
In looking for “the soul of things” Musorgsky was least of all interested in a “precise” musical illustration. His vast imagination as a composer found inspiration to take off independently through Gartman’s portraits, genre scenes and architectural compositions. This is also true of the painter’s landscapes, and his genre sketches made during his travels (The Old Castle, Les Tuileries, Cattle, Two Jews, Rich and Poor, Le Marché de Limoges, Les Catacombes), and his sketches for toys or theatre costumes (The Gnome, The Ballet of Un-hatched Fledglings). Images of Russian folklore – from fairytales, from legendary epos (The Peasant’s Hut on Chicken’s Legs, The Bogatyr Gates) – were, for the first time in piano music, developed with such absolute perfection. In the aforementioned letter to Stasov, Musorgsky gave a glimpse of the idea behind the series: “My imagination can be seen in the interludes.” This concerns the so-called Promenade – music that is not weighed down directly by the artist’s drawings and that brings together the various parts of different character in a united whole. The interludes Musorgsky speaks of, or promenades, which lead from one part of the exhibition to the next, are imbued with the spirit “of a magnificent jewel of Russian culture – the znamenny chant” (Maria Yudina). At the beginning, the Promenade sounds like an independent, finished introduction to the series, and later it expands broadly and diversely in its variations varies, preparing to introduce a new “picture” in order that it can be triumphant in the exultant bell ringing in the finale.
Iosif Raiskin

Age category 6+

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