Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) takes the form of an imaginary tour around an art gallery, with inspiration for each of the ten pictures taken from artist/architect, Viktor Hartmann’s drawings and watercolours. In this version for wind quintet and piano inspiration has come from both Mussorgsky’s original piano version and Ravel’s later, brilliant, orchestration which brought the work widespread appeal.
The suite begins with the famous Promenade theme, which is used as a recurring link, depicting the observer moving from one picture to the next. The first picture, Gnomus, portrays a crooked-legged, little gnome. The Old Castle has a beautiful, melancholic troubadour theme and in Tuileries you can almost hear chattering children playing in the gardens. Bydlo describes a Polish ox cart on enormous wheels whilst the Ballet of the unhatched chicks is based on a canary chick costume design. In Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle we meet two Polish Jews (one rich, one poor) followed by a bustling scene in the Market Place in Limoges. In Catacombs and Cum mortuis in lingua mortua we descend down into the eerie Paris catacombs. We encounter the child-killing witch, Baba Yaga, in The Hut on Fowl’s Legs followed directly by the finale, the Great Gate of Kiev, which is based on a sketch of a monumental gate for Tsar Alexander II.