Gnomus – the Nutcracker Gnome

GnomeA sudden shock. After the brisk stride of Mussorgsky’s Promenade, the gait changes to the lurching, limping stagger of ‘Gnomus’: a picture of a toy nutcracker in the shape of a Gnome, with crooked legs. Hartmann’s picture no longer exists, but the music tells us much. This is not a humorously benevolent garden gnome; it’s more the darkly malevolent variety. Perhaps the image on the left captures something of the idea.

In an abrupt change, the noble, B flat major chordal texture of the Promenade disappears, replaced by a gruff , E flat minor melody in the low register, with halting, staggering steps, pausing to catch its breath.

RH syncopated chords descend as the LH ascends in ungainly intervals; the music pivots around and halts, like an uncontrolled movement, brusquely checked.

The hands share crawling octaves and wide uneven steps, suddenly reversed, before menacing LH trills and evil chromatic snarls below swooping RH chords crescendo to piercing dissonances and a petrified silence – and a quick, frantic sprint in contrary motion to the safety of the final chord.

Below, Byron Janis performs ‘Gnomus’ from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The artwork below is by Natasha Turovsky.


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