Music & Art: "Pictures at an Exhibition"

cross-curricular thumbnails
Amy-Leigh Barnard/Unsplash

Age Range: All Ages, with support for younger learners

Learning Objective: Students will experience Modest Mussorgsky’s art-influenced musical piece, Pictures at an Exhibition. Students will create pictures in response to the music they hear.

ENGAGE students

EXPLAIN. Say, “Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (Moo-SORG-skee) was good friends with the painter Viktor Hartmann. Hartmann had a special exhibition of several of his paintings, and Mussorgsky composed a piece of music inspired by many of those works. Mussorgsky's piece is called Pictures at an Exhibition. It has several movements, or sections.

“Each movement is supposed to represent a different painting in Hoffman's exhibition. In between several of the movements, you will hear promenade music, which means music for walking. Put together, the promenade music and the music for each painting re-creates the experience of walking through an art exhibit!”

EXPLORE sounds

INTRODUCE. Pass out ten pieces of paper to each student. They say, “It's time to visit Hartmann's exhibition through listening. There are ten paintings in this art exhibit. Listen to each piece, and draw what you think the painting might have looked like. You will get a chance to stretch your legs and do a little walking during the promenade.

WALK. “The very first thing we hear is some of that ‘walking’ music. Stroll along to the slow steady beat. Imagine you are walking into a beautiful art museum.”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

DRAW. “Here is the first "painting" in the Exhibition - it's a gnome! Draw or paint your own gnome picture while you listen. A few things to notice:

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: I. Gnomus
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: I. Gnomus
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: I. Gnomus Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

WALK. “Time to get up and walk again!”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

SAY. “This whole composition was originally written for the piano. Over time, several other composers orchestrated the work, or turned it into a piece for instruments of the orchestra. The most famous version for orchestra was created by the composer Maurice Ravel. In this next movement, ‘Old Castle,’ Ravel decided to give an important part of the melody to the saxophone, which was not commonly used in the orchestra at that time.”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: II. Old Castle
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: II. Old Castle
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: II. Old Castle Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

WALK. “Walk to the next painting!”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

EXPLAIN. “Tuileries is the name of a garden near a famous art museum called the Louvre, in Paris, France. Hartmann's painting showed children playing in the garden. Notice this short movement follows an ABA pattern.”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: III. Tuileries
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: III. Tuileries
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: III. Tuileries Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

EXPLAIN. “This next painting was of a large, slow-moving ox cart. Dynamics are very important in this movement. The composer uses dynamics to signal the location of the ox cart. As you listen, try to determine how close (or how far) you are from the ox cart.”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: IV. Bydlo
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: IV. Bydlo
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: IV. Bydlo Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

WALK. “Time for a short walking break!”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

EXPLAIN. “In this next movement, Ravel chooses the colors (or timbres) of the woodwind and string families (with a little percussion tossed in) to conjure up the image of a bunch of unhatched chicks dancing around.”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: V. Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: V. Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: V. Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

EXPLAIN. “This piece is based on two portraits of two different men. Notice two different melodies, or themes - one to depict each man.”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: VI. Samuel Goldberg and Schmuyle
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: VI. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: VI. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

EXPLAIN. “The music of this movement is fast and bustling, just like a busy marketplace!”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: VII. Marketplace at Limoges
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: VII. The Market-Place at Limoges
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: VII. The Market-Place at Limoges Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

EXPLAIN. “Catacombs are underground burial sites, or cemeteries. Paris has very famous catacombs. Hartmann's painting depicted the dark, gloomy catacombs of Paris. If you listen very closely, you might hear a tam-tam at the very end.”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: VIII. Catacombs
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: VIII. Catacombae (Sepulcrum romanum)
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: VIII. Catacombae (Sepulcrum romanum) Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

EXPLAIN. “‘Baba Yaga’ is a witch-like character from Russian folk tales. Legend has it that she lived in a hut that perched on hen's legs. Like so many of the other movements, this one follows that ABA pattern.”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: IX. Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba Yaga)
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: IX. The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yaga)
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: IX. The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yaga) Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

EXPLAIN. “The Great Gate of Kiev was a sketch for a monument that was never built. The gates in the sketch depict scenes of heroic adventure. You might notice that the melody in this movement has a lot in common with the melody in the promenade, or walking music we heard through our stroll through the art exhibition.”

LISTEN — Pictures at an Exhibition: X. The Great Gate of Kiev
Modest Mussorgsky
Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

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Mussorgsky -- Pictures at an Exhibition: X. The Great Gate of Kiev
Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition: X. The Great Gate of Kiev Oleg Marshev, piano; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner, conductor

EXTEND learning

DISPLAY. Display your ten paintings someplace and walk through the exhibition, thinking of the sounds you heard while listening.

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Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

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