It was to the Academy of Arts in St Petersburg [above] – now known as the Russian Academy of Fine Arts – that Mussorgsky went in 1874 to visit his deceased friend’s paintings. Quite an impressive building in itself, and Hartmann’s exhibition was also impressive, comprising over 400 works – watercolours, drawings and sketches. What grandeur and splendour as a backdrop for this exhibition. Hartmann, as an architect, would have been delighted.
Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition opens with a musical ‘selfie’, an ambulatory Promenade as the composer walks in – you can almost hear his pride as he enters the gallery. Although the metre is irregular, with alternate bars of 5 beats and 6 beats, the tread is steady, the mood confident, the pace purposeful. Allegro giusto, the score tells us, nel modo russico, senza allegrezza, ma poco sostenuto.
1874 was a significant year for Mussorgsky, and for St Petersburg. In January, the world premiere of Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov took place. The exhibition of paintings took place in February and March. And also in March, Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Albert, Duke of Edinburgh, married the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia in the Imperial Chapel of the Winter Palace [left].
And there were other ‘Sketches in St Petersburg’ published too, in April 1874 [below].
So that is where the exhibition took place, and these were the people on the streets that year, when Mussorgsky ventured out for his Promenade.
We’ll hear further Promenades as he walks about, his reactions reflected in their speeds, keys and registers. But next, on to the first painting …