Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition. Part 3 “Il Vecchio Castello”

There is a social trend that haunts classical music, especially over the last hundred years. This has caused classical music to become a sort of isolated art meant for a particular audience. Many people eschew the music – they feel it is without life and seemingly remote from their everyday experience and understanding. Thus they find it boring.

In fact, by its nature, it is impossible for classical music to be boring. This is because, like any music, classical music emanates from the soul of the composer who wrote it.

Secondly, we consider classical music to be the best and most valuable the essence of what is beautiful. Specifically, it represents the essence of beauty within mankind’s soul, and also within his art.

So we can perhaps account for why classical music is sometimes …or more accurately stated, why for many years now, classical music has become largely disconnected from the culture of the music-loving masses. But this explanation does not suffice – perhaps it is our fault as musicians who inartfully fail to communicate the soul of the composer, who do not fully comprehend the content, and who do not properly interpret the psychological context of the music. We are not well versed in making more approachable the very complex nature of, if you will, the sounds of mankind’s inner self.

The work we examine today is often the victim of just such an improper reading. Recall that in the previous two episodes of our “Pictures” series, we discussed the difficulty of portraying “Walking” in the sense of it being part of a man’s self-portrait, of its revealing the hidden psychological details within.

But, at least there were no structural problems in the first piece, which represented the venue for the exhibition where the pictures hung, which also inspired Mussorgsky’ creative work – the “Gnome” – this work was too complicated to give a simple explanation of its content as it spoke of the subconscious and various sorts of hidden psychological spaces within the human psyche.

Therefore, of course, it was also very difficult to reveal and to convey the understanding of that revelation to the listening public. But, once again, at least the structure of the form in both the the first and second cases was not severely tested. Winthin the “Castle”, which we will now consider together as the object of our study, there is a strange twist to the story.

Since the picture is called “Il Vecchio Castello”, or “The Old Castle”, by Hartmann, Modest Petrovich birthed completely novel connections in his mind and soul which were not directly derivative of the picture’s title. The name is misleading when attempting to use it as a direct instruction for playing the piece.

We, the performers – must attack it head-first – this approach will primally provide a two dimensional understanding of the musical intentions the composer using only biographical details and the title itself to provide the starting point for our analysis. This gives us our first glimpse of music’s basic inspirational impulse without necessarily delving into the hidden roots of its context. And this provides us a perfect opportunity to depart from the idea of pure composition.

Beginning with the notion that many, or even most, large serious works have, over the centuries, been misinterpreted. And people who know only notes and motives have an incomplete understanding of what the music is about and how to bring its true meaning to the audience.

So, what did Mussorgsky see in this picture? A wonderful sketch of an ancient Italian castle. Thus he literally named his musical picture “Old Castle” without any change to the original title of the pictures – this was the same in every case for all the pictures. But, unfortunately, the name does not tell us anything. You can not play stone. The old castle did not natively inspire anything in the souls of the performers, except to introduce the image of an old worn-out stone.

I understand how the Castle’s physical geometry has provided the whole world’s interpretation with a false narrative. But to be clear this mistake is inexcusable, and making it speaks to the unprofessional superficiality of those choosing that narrative. Unfortunately this includes practitioners of my own profession, much to my shame. That no one bothered to think about the what of the why … why is there such a strong expressiveness, sadness ? And what is built into this music?

And what gave birth to the image of this neglected old stone in Mussorgsky’s heart ? In principle, it’s not hard to guess that if a person thinks about the past, he thinks about life too. About life in that this castle, about the time which was, about the country from which the thought of this work was inspired! It means that this is Italy! It means that there is life within! It means that we must imagine what was in this castle, and not play only about the stone!

In this castle there was a beautiful life that Modest Petrovich presented and In which he described and which he lamented. His visit to Hartmann’s exhibition was associated with very tragic circumstances. His friend died unexpectedly-a young, handsome man, in the prime of his life. Mussorgsky is shocked. Mussorgsky himself is quite sensitive to the notion of death and the mortality of man. Hugely shocked and shaken. Naturally, every thought in every picture centers on life and death. And how we could miss this for a hundred and forty years – Just does not enter my brain, does not enter into my mind. This speaks of the total mental and psychological retardation of the whole musicians’ workshop! To which I belong, also. I emphasize this. I do not distance myself from this.

All these mistakes were made by the members of our profession, during one hundred and fifty years of active concertizing, and I have also made such mistakes.

So, let’s analyze what happened.  What is happening in this music, and what was Modest Petrovich thinking.  [9:10]

A strange florid melody, isn’t it? There is something Moorish, southern. It curls like a snake. There is Arab, Greek, and South Italian influences. This appears only in the lower voice.

Let’s move on to the upper voice. [9:50]  It seems that these are links in one chain. And they are the links of one chain. Only this chain, which took root from the seed that fell in the soul to Modest-Petrovich, is singly voiced. Modest Petrovich transforms it into a polyphonic one. And these links are synchronized – sounding together.

So what is it that the composer asks of us, as always, in Italian. Andantino molto cantabile e con dolorе Hence, unhurriedly. And Andantino is a little faster than Andante – i.e. faster than a regular walking speed. Very lyrical. And With pain. With Pain. So, something very aching. About what was lost. About that which was once alive. Where could this warm southern chain come from [11:24] with a clearly dancing rhythm that is emphasized by the appearing in the bass [11:40]  We are closer.

The upper voice… [11:52]

Italian castle. Modest Petrovich thinks about Italy and, naturally, in his mind, he immediately begins playing Italian music. Modest Petrovich was a nationalistic artist who appreciated native born music – as I always emphasize he felt in his soul a connection to the folk music of the people as played in Italy – and he chose here to use one of the most popular themes – the tarantella. Let’s remember how it sounds. [12:32]

The ornate part continues, next … [12:52]

And then the variations …   This is the kind of music played in this castle, when it was alive, when there was life, when they danced there, when they lived there, when there were ladies and gentlemen, when there were beautiful seniors and senoritas And this, of course, was seen by Modest Petrovich, with his remarkable sadness and Russian nostalgia, refracted by the lens of the circumstances he lived through.

This southern Mediterranean music, which, of course, was influenced by and bears flavors of, Greek, Moorish, and African cultures … In Naples it wouldn’t have reached such geographic extents. This music was created and birthed from the soul of Modest Petrovich. But Modest Petrovich, of course, did not translate the notes literally.

However, Modest Petrovich never forgot the people and their music. Where was he able to hear this music ? Well, of course, there was some music remembered and shared by wandering musicians who hear the music in their everyday experiences. And where could these musicians be found ? In the restaurant where he spent most of his time. There was just such a restaurant as this – “Maloyaroslavets”, in which Modest Petrovich frequented. This restaurant opened in Petersburg in 1870.

This coincided with the time that Mussorgsky matured as a creative artist. In this Petersburg restaurant, people were steeped in nationalism. I must explain that in St. Petersburg at that time, a restaurant with Russian cuisine was a rarity. All the restaurants were French, German, whatever … Swiss – But the restaurant served Russian cuisine, and it was a place where you could experience feeling like a Russian, and share in its taste …side of mutton with buckwheat porridge. This piece coincided with the period around 1870.

There was such a restaurant “Maloyaroslavets” – very famous. Many contemporaries of Mussorgsky recall that, of course, he, unfortunately, spent too much time there. And, at the time St Petersburg novelists ironically called such drinking behavior a pastime and the intelligentsia coined a verb for such times – literally it means to be “congac-ing” – the partaking of the sweet libation regularly. It’s quite obvious that in such a place there were very many … a lot of stray musicians, there were good orchestras. We will later touch upon in detail….why are we speaking of this in such detail ?

Since in subsequent pieces we will trace the connection with music that could … contain harmonic combinations that a person could hear only in such a place. One could infer this source by the harmonic structure, by the combination of harmonies, and by what kind of people played that kind of music: gypsy orchestras …. so the roots of this music can be easily traced. That’s Interesting. Surely, these were some visiting artists … Probably some Italian troupe of traveling musicians who played there.

I am absolutely sure that this was live music touching the soul of Mussorgsky. It is not based in musical literature which he could examine in local archives, or hear them as part of an opera….no this music is most like from the street since the music is very simple. And it is clear how it is transformed in the soul of Mussorgsky. The Mediterranean sun of Africa radiates into St.Petersburg, cools, passes through the consciousness of this remarkable Russian man, is refracted and becomes a nostalgic romance with almost a Gypsy style Such a fantastic metamorphosis. We are definitely not playing an old stone.

And now we understand what pace or tempo we must choose and why we are choosing it – to avoid making the mistake we made at the beginning. All, probably, were confused by the choice of andantino, yes? .. And the musicians probably set the metronome on andante and got an incorrect pacing. Then from this point…we should not proceed from the 6/8 on which the instruction of Mussorgsky is based, but instead use a bipartite rhythm, just as the Neapolitans danced when they jumped with such music. [18:27]
Naturally, this music was filtered through sad circumstances and a depressed soul.

Of course, Mussorgsky brilliantly makes new memories, but through personal grief and thoughts of death, memento mori, the music now conveys but a shadow of the St. Petersburg tarantella.

Mussorgsky often cites “Faust”, which he hated, but quotes very often, and agrees with the thought “Use your life to live/or sleep Peacefully in a coffin.” In the Russian translation, this is the maxim of Goethe. Mussorgsky hated it, but agreed. He said: “It’s said very badly, but it’s truth.”

Of course, he thinks about it, ponders it…a great deal ! There is such a strong wave of sadness. Hartman died. Modest Petrovich found himself unhappy with his cramped circumstances of life. He himself is shocked, because the once life-filled old castle has been portrayed in the picture as a mere mossy stone. You can imagine how much all of this inspired melancholic thoughts.

Therefore, after passing through the dense layer of our consciousness, music becomes very clarified and easy to understand. And we are no longer mistaken in anything: neither in pace, nor in content, nor in intonations.

Do not be embarrassed by the fact that the great composer raised music directly from the street. He elevated flowers, and drew beauty straight from the mud. But, in fact, there is no dirt. Remember Toulouse-Lautrec, remember all the other Montmartre artists, and all the wonderful artists in general. The artist finds beauty and the gold intrinsic of beauty everywhere, because it’s in his soul regardless of where he is located. Therefore, whether it’s a restaurant, or a brothel … whatever it is – a real, pure artist, with a pure soul , a pure warm heart will always find the spark of eternal beauty everywhere. Therefore, through the St. Petersburg restaurant, through lonely nights one-on-one with a bottle of cognac and his restaurant music, through a great soul, and a great heart, we get wonderful music.

I would also like to say that, of course, this approach very strongly divides creative people into two opposing, possibly irreconcilable, camps. Thus, it is quite clear why Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff hated Mussorgsky. They just didn’t accept him. For them it was vulgar. Every other letter, when Tchaikovsky refers to Mussorgsky, he describes him as vulgar, disgusting, muck, vulgarity.

Well, yes – they were members of high society… they were the parlor singers of the grand living rooms … And Mussorgsky was a tavern singer, of the street. And I understand very well why Shostakovich so fell in love with Mussorgsky – because it was very close to his soul too. I must say that speaking for myself, about my own experience, then for the greater part of my life, I spent time with guests of high society in their living rooms. It was very close to me, much closer. But, I found that with age I became less tolerant of that life…I tolerated it but now I see things from a broader perspective.

And I must say that it is now those artists who come from the people – they are closer and more precious to me. As this view is deeper, more comprehensive, and connects with the roots of humanity, its birth and death, rather than to the refined status of some people.

Let’s go through the text, as we usually do, in order to see together how the music of the tarantella is ingeniously transformed into the cruel romance of Modest Petrovich. Or, as we call it today in the modern world – a ballad. [23:45]

That is, we see here the second part of the tarantella.  And the first part – he just inverts it, and turns it into a beautiful melody. [24:03] Great!

The tambourine does not turn into a mere act of jumping. Dancing happy drunkards or not even necessarily a drunkard, but instead it can be from an Italian wedding, or from anything you like.

So Where does the tarantella come from? Because at many functions, the tarantella is danced. And the tarantella always appears in the form of limericks: one verse, then a second verse, then the third verse, and the fourth verse – the longer the song created, the greater the number of verses in the song, there will also be more there will be more rhyming, as in Russian they say – musical cycles. These change from a minor to a major, sometimes leaving chords which….We will see this throughout the text.

And so Modest Petrovich utilizes the couplet form. Therefore, I mentioned the word “ballad” -it is a story, it’s his story.

So, the tambourine [25:21] turns into a pulsation of time. This memento mori reminds us of the transience of life – on the onehand. On the other hand, it sounds like a disturbing alarm, like a pulse of the heart, which can break in any second. Makes it so stressful. ! It stresses us at a subconscious level, like in real life. – (An empty fifth interval is added to the middle voice (26:00 is always … A fifth represents is a fear of emptiness.) Clean, empty Interval. With a groan! [26:16] Already through two voices we hear the whole pulse (26:20) of life, the entire pulsation of our presence on this planet. And the middle voice cries and groans, and, looking at the castle, speaks of the moans of ghosts that might also be there.

That’s how his genius deals with two sounds [26:47]

Modest Petrovich placed this melody a bit later in the upper voice, because his circle of friends worried that that he was being a bit boring and monotonous. Apparently, too, they did not understand what the music is about. It isn’t of course, at all monotonous. It’s possible the music … can still have the excess ornamentation removed. ((In case someone found it superfluous. And yet Modest Petrovich through his intuition, his genius, instantly creates such motion, and such tension that it will never become boring. Well, I hoped that here he [27:42] with these two notes added the figure of a troubadour who could, there … somewhere hi s spirit is hovering … And Modest Petrovich, being a talkative man, utilizing such simple materials, added the troubadour. [27:55]

So, the second verse. Stunning absolutely harmonic moves [28:02] !
Touches the soul to such a degree! Of course, he borrows it from the guitar. Here our golden, wonderful Modest Petrovich gives a little glimpse of himself and flies us geographically to Spain. Because these chords are typical for the Spanish guitar. And thus, when I wrote humorously about my work for my friends, that sometimes geographically, through the enrichment of music with certain harmonies, Modest Petrovich disappears from Italy and goes to Spain. Even to the south of Spain, to some Alhambra .. [28:58] Such material is for jazz, for modern pop music, ballads. Anyone may borrow it. It isn’t copyrighted !

So, the next verse. What is Modest Petrovich doing in this section ? Beginning with complete emptiness, corpses, stone and graves, he gradually adds more life to each verse. Now let’s see what what happened there, and what the apparition was. He imagined the Dance rhythm would not disappear, all along he is [29:48] asking for these little slurs.

It’s amazing how the musicians were clueless about the danceable nature of the music, that it should jump, bounce… that it should be danceable that it should jump, bounce … However, that went largely unnoticed by everyone. That is, here we notice dance elements that, after the first two verses in which he just cried, illustrate for us life in old castle 500 years ago. [30:06] And each time, every phrase ends with a groan and …Crying, because everything is gone, everything is gone, everything is gone!

He was very sensitive to this topic. In other words, what happened with Hartmann at this exhibition deeply affected him. We know this because he, if we follow his biographical information, Modest Petrovich, was incredibly bitter about life and death afterwards. In particular, he absolutely did not recognize the humanistic idea of Tolstoy, which I, by the way, often believe as many others do – that a person does not die, but remains alive with us through our consciousness. He rejected it. He rejected it, and even his direct quotes were preserved. He said that: “Don’t console me ! This is not reality , it’s cuckoo ! – said Mussorgsky. Because he who dies never returns. Here it is polyphonic. From a single [31:35] simple dance melody. There is a polyphonic work Fourth verse.

Not only did he show that there was dancing there, the seigneurs and senioritas were rejoicing there, there were fans, there was courtship … And now he just goes on to the romance, to the story of love. [32:18] This chain of chords – he borrows from the major part of the tarantella. If you forget, I’ll remind you. [32:33] When the dance becomes hot, and when the chords hang, before the partners come together Here it is [32:55]  – That’s how it transforms within … the soul of Modest Petrovich. Ah! ..Suspended (33:05)

So, what is next? And further – musicians interpret [33:14]  such chromaticisms unambiguously. When we hear such a chromatic movement within a certain harmonic treatment, it is always a signal of sensuality. That is, it is already open sexuality, [33:27] . Sensation. (With a song: “Everything has passed away,” “And it passed away.” (33:40

And we go further forward with the pulse of time [33:48] The sound of the trumpet! (33:50) Modest Petrovich adds life! (33:55 8 Passion … (33:04). He already sees this life that was here. Everything has already almost become reborn, and! … (33:14) Breaks off abruptly The idea is left unfinished. It’s all over. The dance is falling apart. That’s what we have left of people. (34:35) Some bones and their graves. The last verse. (34:40 -34:46) So, what is it in the language of Mussorgsky? Not only is it in the language of Mussorgsky. It is in the language of Liszt, in the language of Shostakovich, in the language of all clever composers. What we hear in the middle voice is the chimera of death. Listen carefully![34:57] Usually the theme is given to a bassoon … the Bassoon often plays us death, or some kind of combination of wind instruments that mimic this very well.

It’s a chimera of death. [35:17] She is in the last stage. And Modest Petrovich specifically asks in the last verse once again espressivo – expressively. He’s emphasizing it. Well, if the composers were kinder to us, they would just paint all of this – it would be easier but it would not help the foolish.

[35:39] – So that’s it. (35:48) Dead. The last breath. (35:50) It’s like an epitaph in the language of Mussorgsky And the last cry: “Farewell!”(35:59) Farewell, forgive, gone, everything will pass, life has passed, love has passed! .. There are only bones and decay ! That’s the whole of its content.

Many thanks.
[36:13 – 39:36]

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