05/29/03
"Pictures at an Exhibition"
    by John Cech

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That's the familiar theme from Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." How this famous composition came to be created is the subject of a new picture book for young readers, by Anna Harwell Celenza with illustrations by JoAnn Kitchell, from Charlesbridge Books. The volume includes a CD recording of this suite for orchestra along with a simpler version for solo piano.

We learn from Ms. Celenza's text that the music grew out of a tragic turn of events in the friendship between Mussorgsky and Victor Hartmann, a gifted artist and architect who died suddenly in 1873, as his talents were just beginning to flourish. The news of Victor's death plunged Mussorgsky into a grief that lasted for months, until a group of their mutual friends assembled an exhibition of Hartmann's drawings, paintings, and architectural plans as a tribute to their friend. The sight of these pictures, with their many memories, inspired Mussorgsky, and he immediately went back to work. You can almost hear the weight of his sadness lift as his dark, shimmering base notes vanish at the sight of his friends' comic renderings of baby canaries hatching from their eggs.

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And in the end, there are the majestic chords that Mussorgsky found to celebrate Hartmann's design -- his masterpiece -- for the great gate for the city of Kiev. It's a moving story of friendship and of the power of music to build something every bit as permanent as stone:

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Copyright 2003 John Cech

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