Brussels Philharmonic | Pictures at an Exhibition

Pictures at an Exhibition

Pictures at an Exhibition...

“A piece that I have known for a long time and still only recently have begun to understand in its layers. I will probably say the same again in ten years…”
- Elias Grandy

The Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky composed Pictures at an Exhibition in 1874, shortly after the death of his friend, the architect and painter Viktor Hartmann. The two artists had been brought together by their shared quest for renewal within Russian nationalism. After visiting a retrospective exhibition of Hartmann’s work, Mussorgsky decided to give his walk along the many paintings musical expression: "Hartmann would not leave me alone. The sounds and ideas hung in the air. I am gulping them down and am so excited that I can hardly manage to put them down on paper. The interludes, which I have called ‘promenades’, are good. I want to work more quickly and steadily. So far, I think it’s well turned."

live in concert

experience Pictures at an Exhibition live with the Brussels Philharmonic under the direction of Elias Grandy on October 25 and 26 at Flagey

[info & tickets: 25.10]
[info & tickets: 27.10]
[read also: programme notes]
[discover also: podcast Houston Symphony]
[discover also: Close Encounters]

In the piano suite, you can, so to speak, hear Mussorgsky walk past ten different works of art. From a malicious dwarf or children playing in the Tuileries gardens in Paris to the great city gate of Kyiv, all the pictures are translated into an imaginative musical language. The suite opens with a Promenade that depicts the visitor strolling through the museum. The theme returns in a slightly varied form between each musical depiction of a painting, as a leitmotif between the movements.

Grandy: “This masterwork is Mussorgsky’s own testament of his belief that arts have a direct impact on its audience. The key to understanding the piece lies in the Promenades between the musically described pictures. In those, we can hear how the viewer of the exhibition is influenced by looking at the paintings, her or his emotional state is changing, and then - in the Great Gate of Kiev [the tenth and final picture] - is literally drawn into the painting, and becomes one with it. What an astonishing way to musically capture art and its perception while at the same time creating a new piece of art!”

Pictures at an Exhibition was originally composed as a ten-part piano suite. In 1922, the conductor Serge Koussevitzky asked Maurice Ravel to rework the piece for symphony orchestra. Ravel succeeded perfectly in capturing the different atmospheres in his orchestration for a modern orchestra, albeit not without marking it with his own distinctive stamp.

Grandy: “Intriguing is the combination of Mussorgsky’s music and Ravel’s mastery of instrumentation. It’s like bringing together in the same painting the craft of the Flemish Renaissance painters with German Expressionism. Or, in modern times, Gerhard Richter’s photo realism next to Anselm Kiefer.”

Ravel was not the only one to have orchestrated Mussorgsky’s work, but his version is by far the most popular. In 1922, the work conquered all of France, and from there, the world.

works by Viktor Hartmann in chronological order:

1/ The Hut on Fowl's Legs
2/ The Great Gate of Kiev
3/ Chicks in Shell


Matinee: Pictures at an Exhibition · 27.10.2024 · Flagey

Modest Mussorgsky and Paul Dukas both wrote very image-rich music, populated by magical characters that we all know: a sorcerer’s apprentice (with big round ears) but also ‘gnomes on crooked legs’ and the Slavic folklore figure Baba Yaga. The composers know how to sketch them all with a childlike unspoilt quality and kaleidoscopic orchestral colours. Who needs Disney animated movies when the characters come to life right in front of your ears.

2024 Brussels Philharmonic Kazushi Ono Ligeti Bartok 1 U Canon300 GR 4

Close Encounters: Pictures at an Exhibition · 24.10.2024 · Flagey

Open rehearsals: experience the orchestra up close and feel the power of our collective.Watch the rehearsal from a unique spot: the stalls on our Studio 4 stage. Afterwards, chat with someone from on or behind the stage—be it the conductor, soloist, musician, or a production team member.