Modest Mussorgsky was a close friend of the young artist and architect Victor Hartmann, and his death in 1893 plunged Mussorgsky in to a deep depression. The following year a memorial exhibition in St. Petersburg displayed Hartmann’s paintings, costumes, architectural designs and sketches. Mussorgsky’s visit to the exhibition, combined with a desire to write a piece in his friend’s memory, inspired him to compose his Pictures At An Exhibition for piano. This a suite of ten movements, with a recurring Promenade theme is now one of the composer’s most famous works and is regarded as a showpiece for virtuoso pianists. It is perhaps the orchestral transcription made by Maurice Ravel in 1922 that is now the most famous version of it.
This arrangement opens with a brief excerpt from The Hut On Fowl’s Legs, which was based on a painting of an elaborately carved clock depicting Baba Yaga, a horrible tiny witch that feasts on human bones. The tenth and final picture in Mussorgsky’s masterpiece is commonly referred to as The Great Gate of Kiev, although it’s literal translation is The Bogatyr Gates – a Bogatyr being a hero figure in medieval East Slavic legend. It features a grand main theme that is interspersed with a more solemn hymn-like secondary theme. The work closes with a grand rendition of the Promenade thee that almost grinds to a halt at what must be the foot of what were to be magnificent ceremonial gates (although they were never actually built!).