This summer, the theme for the Listening Assignments is Piano and . . . The piano, though a very large and not very portable instrument, is nonetheless very versatile and has inspired composers to write an amazing collection of music which continues to grow with new compositions being written all the time.
The listening assignment for this week is a collection of 10 short pieces called Pictures At An Exhibition which was written in 1874 by Modest Mussorgsky, a Russian composer. His inspiration for the music was a collection of paintings by his friend Viktor Harmann who died unexpectedly at the age of 39. Mussorgsky wrote the piano music as a tribute to his friend and in the music he “describes” with sound each painting in the exhibit. There is a promenade theme that is played between the pieces as if someone was walking and viewing each painting and which connects the entire piece. Here are the titles of the paintings:
The Promenade/ The Gnome/ Promenade/ The Old Castle/ Promenade/ Chilren’s Quarrel after Games/ Cattle/ Promenade/ Ballet of Unhatched Chicks/ / Samuel Goldenberg and Schmyle) Promenade/ The Market/ Catacombs/ Baba Yaga( The Hut on Hen’s Legs) The Gates of Kiev
As you listen to these pieces, try and figure out how he uses sound to describe each painting. For instance, with the Promenade theme, what makes it sound like someone walking? What does he do to create the impression of The Gnome or The Old Castle? How are the rhythms in those pieces different from the steady calmness of the Promenade theme? Does he use a different register of the piano? How does he use silences and pauses to create drama? How is tempo used to create the different moods and character of each piece? Listen for the wide range of dynamics and how he brings out each melody, voicing the top note of large chords, or playing the accompanying parts really softly. Write down three descriptive words for each picture and for the Promenade theme as part of your assignment for this week. Also, try experimenting with one of the musical ideas- maybe the promenade theme- just play around with it and see what you might create. To give you some ideas, I’ve also included another version of the piece by The Piano Guys that is so inventive with how they incorporate puppets and gives an example of taking a musical idea and creating something new from it. Happy Listening!
Pictures At An Exhibition