Promenade; Il Vecchio Castello. A Castle in the Clouds?

Mussorgsky is on the move again. The key of the familiar Promenade  is now a tone lower than at the opening, more reflective, less brash, and the melody is in the tenor register as an unaccompanied solo voice, repeated with added chords above it , rather than below. The choice of harmonies, texture and range create a change of mood; the music is thoughtful, and instead of an emphatic final perfect cadence, Mussorgsky uses an open-ended imperfect cadence, ushering us along to the next picture.

Hartmann travelled widely in Europe, and his exhibition featured sketches from his journeys. He made a watercolour sketch of The Old CastleIl Vecchio Castello – I wonder which one, and where? The picture no longer exists, but Mussorgsky’s music will sketch a different castle in the mind of each listener. To fuel the imagination, below is the Rocca Borromeo di Angera, Borromeo Castle in Angera, dated 1880, drawn by writer and painter Samuel Butler.

Angera Castle


Mussorgsky adds a troubadour playing a lute to his musical representation of the castle; this is a stroke of genius, adding the human dimension. The preceding Promenade cadence now resolves onto a tonic of G# minor; a  LH drone underpins a melody which is modal, meandering and melancholy. Marked Andante molto cantabile e con dolore, a rocking 6/8 time signature and irregular phrase lengths add to the hypnotic feel of the music. Unhurried, it moves sadly towards its conclusion, becoming ever more fragmented and broken, repeating itself as if constantly revisiting painful memories. Mysterious chords and a final, defiant gesture of the two opening notes of the melody bring us to the end. The tonic lingers on in the bass, unwilling to let go.

Here is Pletnev –



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