Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition. Part 8 “Limoges. The Market (The Great News)”

This is the second humoresque after the remarkable prior piece based on a chicken ballet.   It’s about human silliness.   Gossip, idle chatter, and an exhibition of simple, unrefined, somewhat unfiltered everyday humanity filtered through the lens of the vernacular.   If we were to liken it to a modern equivalent, the best analogy would be a snapshot of the social media, the Internet, ‐ a Limoges piece.  Here some gossip ensues, in which everyone discusses things, but no one really listens enough to any else’s words to really try to understand anyone or anything much beyond that of their own voice’s contribution to the total malaise of the dynamic, such as it is, which is truly the art of the gossipers.    Mutual Understanding is not nearly as important as the successful delivery of opinion.  And the primary goal for Modest Petrovich was to convey the essence of this nonsense. Here again he demonstrates his fantastic mastery of using music as a vehicle to convey ideas.    This is a real composer’s great gift.    And thank God that he succeeded in HIS quest to enlighten humanity through this special person ‐ That is, he stepped into the body and soul of a certain person ‐ Modest Petrovich, and expressed himself through him. Because it is a gift, of course, completely Divine, as we usually say in such cases, because we do not know how else to explain it.

So, what is going on here? It is necessary to determine very precisely where the storyline and its actors are being depicted, and where the action of the story is being placed. In the usual interpretations of this piece, as a rule, there is a doubling of nonsense, where we find that the interpreters are not able, as we have already encountered many times, to read the musical language, to understand its meanings. And the foundation that underpins this work – this picture of empty vessels is sketched or structured as one would a cartoon, like a parody  ‐  and only by understanding it, by understanding this musical language and identifying with it for what it is, as musical language, we can convey the absurdity of it all, the lack of actual interpersonal communication, the nonsense of empty words and then to be able to laugh at it.   Because at its heart it’s very funny, wonderfully done, and one just has to savor every little detail, where Mussorgsky shows his amazing mastery of parody, caricature, and humorous comedy.   But if you only scratch the surface, and do not read into it sufficiently, then chaos is just superimposed on nonsense and chaos, you get chaos in the square, and the performance looses its value, it devolves into a kind of virtuosic, compressed, densely incomprehensible work, like the fracas of a noisy woodpecker.   This, of course, is terrible. And in any case, I want to bring up this subject. I will now dwell a little, distracted, because we enter the final phase, the final phase of this great canvas, where I want to dwell a little more on one hand, on the skill, on the genius of Modest Petrovich, on the other hand ‐ on the meanings that open up with a deeper look in the musical texts.

3.32 So, as usual, we focus on what the composer wants to tell us through multiple data points.  We need to carefully, very carefully, repeatedly collect all the data, all the information, all possible identical narratives of the composers, because humoresques are a big part of compositions, of the world’s music in general  ‐  Something that is completely missing, unfortunately, in our concert halls, and what we completely have lost in today’s music. This provides us an opportunity to just laugh, to enjoy when composers laugh, when composers make very funny statements through music, when their notes glisten and shine with the polish of humor, and when, in general, the audience should be free to smile, to laugh, to revel in the unrestrained humorous comedy of the musical moment.  All this, like many ‐ many other qualities and feelings, are lost in classical music, in the performance of classical music. Music is just as rich as everything that we have in our beautiful human life and soul. But because of the narrow focus on what I would call “exactitude”‐ an over emphasis of detail over substance, which has come to dominate the thinking of performers over the past many years, there has been some incomprehensible decadent attitude towards classical music, bordering on the dogmatic, overly pseudo‐philosophical, political and overly passionate or even in some cases overly dispassionate mechanization of emotion which has led to a displeasure with the art form, and – let’s face it, to grief in the emptying concert halls.  And for some reason the joke, the humor, and the aphoristic spark, the glitter of paradoxes has become almost extinct.   We just are unaware of its existence in music.    In fact, our music  ‐  what we are presented with in recent years by classical performers – has in fact mutilated both the body and the soul of music, making it appear very much narrowed in scope due to the way that musical imagery has become over‐simplified and its inner meanings subdued for the sake of the superficiality of performance practice correctness, combined with an overt under‐analysis of the composer’s actual back‐ story for the sake of perceived historical accuracy.  This removes the anthropomorphism that is inherent to the art, and so necessary to communicate the humanity folded within the music.    This paradox between perfect performance and imperfect interpretation denies the music the basic humanity required to communicate the true intent and messaging of the composer. So here it is essential to recognize and to communicate through performance the most brilliant humor, the most brilliant paradoxes, the most brilliant aphorisms, all translated through the vehicle of wonderful musical language.

6.14 Let’s see and, as always, we will go through this marvelous piece. This is a wonderful, ridiculous almost mocking, but good‐natured piece.   Modest Petrovich is not implying anything mean spirited.  This is part of his great character. And, as I have already said many times, this is what we ascribe to the unfortunately, overused word “great humanist”.   Well, yes, he’s really a great humanist, a man who understands humanity, loves humanity and all human vices; and stupidity, of course, is a very great flaw, from which almost all misfortunes occur‐he treats it with irony and without malice.

So, the first bar of this piece (7.12 ‐ 7.15 Andrei plays). Mass scene. We see the people; we see a feeling of cheerfulness. Composers always use such a fractional technique to create an atmosphere. Well, do not go far, we can remember Shostakovich (7.35  ‐  7.37) “We are met with a cool morning.” Same thing here. (7.40  ‐  7.42). This is the atmosphere. Hence, we interpret the first measure as creating an atmosphere. Not yet a personalization  ‐ (7.55  ‐7.57). Again, the cinematic presentation.    By the way, we are still talking about the methods.    I already wanted to convey this idea. Mussorgsky died 15 years before the advent of cinema. In the middle of the 19th century, composers already moved from planet to planet, flew, teleported, invented all kinds of engines ‐ both serious and funny, moved at a distance.  Invented all the possible cinematographic techniques that we know to date, including scene editing, the imposition of frames one on another  ‐ this is all already in Liszt’s music. Starting here with our, as I call them, the three Musketeers  ‐ Schumann, Chopin, Liszt. These three, they have already created all the techniques of modern cinematography and all the visual and acoustic effects that we can imagine. Including the physical and technical discoveries, which we utilize today, including space flights, rocket planes, airplanes and everything else. All this was in their imagination, and all this was transferred already in their music. So, we did not invent anything new. We just materialized. That is, it is quite obvious that people thought about all this and dreamed thousands of years ago. But in music it was embodied already in the acoustically visual art, which was born after the appearance of these remarkable three born almost at the same time  ‐ Schumann, Chopin, in one‐year‐and Liszt two years earlier. Thanks to these three powerful figures, we already have an unlimited imagination, embodied with everyone  ‐ with all of today’s ideas, embodied in music, embodied through music. And, of course, Modest Petrovich enjoys and develops all these wonderful things, thanks to his national soil, thanks to his personality and personal characteristics. All these wonderful people  ‐ I must say and we must understand this – their mentality was so fragile, because they lived here in this world and could already embody all these amazing ideas that came to them in the head, ‐ their psyche was very fragile. It was always almost on the verge of insanity. But naturally not in a derogatory sense, not in the sense of idiocy or something so depressing. No, just overtly sensitive people, with too much introspection, with incredible imagination.    The human body, the human brain, cannot withstand the stress of relying upon pure imagination for reality.    And we know that all these people I mention  ‐  they all suffered from hallucinations ‐ and Modest Petrovich, and Chopin, and Schumann. They often leapt from one state to another, and when they tried to communicate this to us, fell into another already, painful state, when they were frightened by their own visions, when their psyche could not stand it. This is a very difficult to discuss, and we will not permit it to distract us as we go further.   But I just want you to understand how phenomenal this is, how phenomenal the psyche of these people is, the fantasy of these people and at the same time, the enormous endurance of these people. Physical endurance, which endured here these overloads of imagination, this overload of the work of the brain. Not only that they coped with this and did not get permanently committed , they still gave us all this in music and gave birth to ideas that are still far from being materialized in our life, despite the wonderful technology that surrounds us .

12.16 So, the atmosphere: (12.19 ‐ 12.21). Having created the atmosphere, we proceed to the action from the second bar (12.27 ‐12.31). So since there is so much happening at once, I will interrupt myself frequently and always explain what is happening.    As we know, the musicologists unfortunately can not tell us anything more than the fact that Modest Petrovich wanted gives us clues as to what is happening here. He actually took the step of writing in French some sort of French gossip, nonsense, when the gossips speak absurd phrases, repeat, ask questions, interrupt each other. So he wanted to tell how to interpret it. But then he took it and erased it, as is often the case with composers. The same thing happened to Chopin once. And maybe even more than once, we do not know for sure. But the fact that autobiographical information reaches us, Chopin also once wanted to paint much of what he wanted to convey to the performer, then he also took it and erased everything. The same thing happened with Beethoven. The same thing happened with Ravel. The same thing happened with Shostakovich. They all wanted to bring to us in the literary exposition what they put into music. But then they came to the conclusion that it was useless. The same with Rachmaninov, who said that the smart will guess, the stupid will still not help. And this idea has always stopped all great composers from over‐suggesting what is happening. Here is the same thing happened here. Modest Petrovich took, and erased everything from his narrative , all this gossip. Well, yes, because if there is no real imagination, it will not help a person, he will not realize it anyway. And if 3 there is an artistic imagination, then he will read it in the musical language, corresponding to the level of his professionalism. But, as we know, and how we have already come to a conclusion together during this series, musical language remains a mystery for almost all professional musicians. That is, at the level of phrases and sentences the language is read. But beyond the transparent level of actual words and understanding of the meaning of those musical words, this we have nothing.   Because of this, there is a lot of nonsense and misinterpretations. The same is true here if we follow all the interpretations that this work presents to us, this little play of Limoges, in general, we will have only the most general idea of what is happening here. People are keen on the pace, begin to drive incredibly, show their physical abilities, although here are completely different artistic aims to shoot for. Here the most important thing is to convey firstly what the characters are talking about, because we are dealing here with people. We have a market, we have gossips  ‐    they talk, they gossip, they speak.    And it is so vividly expressed, so precisely expressed in music and in technique, that we can decipher everything. We just need to devote time and part of our life to this, only then we can decipher it. And everything else that we hear from the stage ‐ it’s called simply an unprofessional approach.

So, after the creation of the atmosphere (15.50‐15:52) of the fresh, obviously, morning, mass scene, market, the presence of a large number of people ‐ literally one, two, three, four … ..sixteen notes created an atmosphere and a whole already cinematic series. Further, we hear voices: (16.14 ‐16.18). So, what is this? We know that they are gossiping about some cow that has run away somewhere. Then no one understands, whether it’s a cow, or someone has lost teeth, or someone else has lost something. In short, there is already complete confusion. Well, let’s decipher the language. So, therefore, everything should be approached from the standpoint of mechanically short strokes    (16.41‐16.44), since this is an atmosphere, this should go to the background. The voices of gossips should come to the fore. Therefore, everything related to the material (16.54  ‐16.59)  ‐  this is our accompaniment, into the atmosphere. Relief should be very large throughout the narrative. And to the fore, as in the cinema, faces of the speaking gossips  should go out: (17.17 ‐17.19). Here it is  ‐ gossip, ran: (17. 21  ‐17.22). Further we have strange four accents: (17.26  ‐17.27). What is it ? Here, again, everything is very subtle, like everything in the real interpretation of music. We must definitely decipher that with accents, ‐ a strong accent is called sforzando in the language of musicians ‐ and what the composer wants to say here. And the composer says, sempre scherzando, ‐ it must be very funny. Very humorous. But then again, the musicians are so used to feeling like they are at a funeral when playing classical music, so what they think is: well, scherzando okay, it seemed funny to him, in fact it’s not funny. So usually, for some reason, almost all the performers approach the material and wishes of the composers, as if composers are a funeral team. And already a priori it should be boring. And if it’s funny to them, then to us it is certainly not funny. Here is such a feeling, on the one hand, of inferiority, on the other side of incredible superiority. As a rule, this is often combined, unfortunately. But the composers were genius people. We recognize this all, we understand all this perfectly. So, if they said scherzando, it’s really funny. So, they were funny, it means they made it funny. So, we must laugh, then the problem we have internally is, that if we do not find comical images real, then we do not accomplish much, we do not decipher what is encrypted. And how many scherzos are written by great composers! Oh my God! Every second, third part ‐ scherzo, ‐ in symphonies, here. Are we laughing in the hall? Never! Is it funny to us? Never! Such terrible things happen in the world of interpretation.    So, what is this: (19.13  ‐ 19.14)? We are dealing with a cartoon, we are dealing with a travesty. Well, of course, this is laughter(19.21 ‐19.24 ha‐ha‐ ha‐ha)! The gossip was begun (19.25 ‐19.27), it was reacted to (19.29 ‐19.31 ha‐ha‐ha‐ha). After all, even circus musicians know this laugh. They also play on trumpets, on saxophones, on violins, on cellos, on any wind. And in the end, as a rule, after such a circus laugh (19.43 ‐19.44), it is usually always in the circus, either in the farce, or on the street ‐ always the drummer’s impact with the cymbals. The clown makes some kind of joke, and it’s always accompanied by such a cartoon‐ this is a cartoonish musical laughter (20.02 ‐20.03 ha‐ha ‐ha‐ ha). You see ‐ such a small detail. Eight notes. And how much time should be spent here to understand and decipher what the composer meant here. But then we can adequately execute and deliver. Of course, you can spank, like everyone does (20.22  ‐20.23)  ‐  4 accents. But they will not say anything. The whole trouble is that if the interpreter does not understand exactly what the conversation is about, he cannot convey it. But this is transmitted not only through music, but transmitted through some unknown communications, biofields, something that scientists still have to decipher.   But what makes music magical, a live musical communication between a living musician and the audience is when all artistic images based on solid knowledge and great expressiveness are transmitted to us. Being in the hall, we cannot feel it, do not understand on the spot, do not understand what the interpreter is telling us. But we will feel it, and then it grows in us ‐ understanding. But in any case, the impression will be a meaningful musical performance, when, maybe, we do not know what is happening, but we will still laugh, because it will be funny.

So, (21.22‐21.23) ha‐ha‐ha‐ha, (21.24  ‐21.25). Laugh. I want to show you two small examples of how composers portray laughter. For example, this is a characterized laugh . I’m sure that this is not the laughter of Modest Petrovich himself. I think that he, being an open minded but temperamental person, probably laughed 4 from his heart but even more so. Although it is quite often laughter (21.46 ‐21.47), when people hold to their tummies. But this, after all, is a parody of laughter. For example, here’s how Chopin laughs (21.54 ‐22.04). But this, of course, was his own laugh. He murmured and even a choked a little, but after a fit of laughter, he still chuckles. Here, of course, he portrayed himself. For example, as Liszt portrays laughter: (22.18 ‐ 22.33), and further laughter is incredible. But this is the laughter of philosophical content, this is the laughter of Mephistopheles, with whom Liszt laughs in the finale of his sonata. It’s something here a little scary and dangerous. Since Liszt was very public  ‐  philosophical, he is a musical philosopher  ‐ that’s why he usually tells us such things  ‐  at the level of Goethe, at the level of Faust, the cosmic is something philosophical ‐ cosmic, generalizing. Therefore, there is another laugh. But as you can see, everywhere ‐ all the coda of the Liszt Sonata is built on the laughter of Mephistopheles, Chopin, as always is about himself  ‐ his laughter is wonderful, charming. Well, Modest Petrovich, then, gives us his laughter, clown laughter.   So, let’s go further: (23.27 ‐ 23.28) ha‐ ha‐ ha‐ ha. (23.30 ‐ 23.34). Further, he shows us the reaction of various characters: (23.40  ‐ 23.41), further (23.42  ‐23.43) focus on the second beat, instead of the first, (23.45  ‐ 23.46) then again on the second, (23.47 ‐ 23.48 ) and the first. The polyphonic series turns on when we see two gossips talking (23.55 ‐ 23.57). That is, on the one hand we still have (23.58  ‐24.00) this nervousness, which is peculiar to the market and for gossips, especially for gossips. But the difficulty here of the interpretation is precisely in the creation of the artistic image, when we have to remove the less important details, that is, the atmospheric details ‐ (24.19 ‐ 24.20) ‐ this is atmospheric (24.21 ‐24.22). And the conversation is here: (24.23 ‐ 24.26), (24.27) ‐ persuasively, (24.29) ‐ surprised, (24.31 ‐24.33) ‐what do you say (24.34)! ‐Yes, I convince you (24.35)! ‐Yes that cannot be (24.37 ‐24.38)! And further (24.39 ‐ 24.41) Two gossips have already jumped on each other (24.44)  ‐And I’m telling you (24.45)!  ‐Oh well (24.46)!  ‐And I’m telling you!  ‐Yes, it cannot be (24.47  ‐24.49)! And they return again to the first gossip (24.53  ‐ 24.55). Only further is already a completely different understanding of this gossip, another interpretation. Well, as it followed from the clue ‐ first talking about the cow, and then about the lost teeth, the devil knows what! In short, the absolute nonsense is, at the level ‐ what Fellini and other people like to have shown in filmmaking for the gift of a cartoonist, caricaturist, and humorist.

(25.24 ‐25.27). Here already with us, if you remember, the first gossip was like this: (25.31 ‐ 25.34) ‐ the reaction was not too sharp, then here, in the same turn (25.40 ‐ 25.41) we see a completely different reaction from other character (25.46 ‐  25.49). There is some (25.50  ‐ 25.52) .. something so important and fat, there is another character who intercepts the initiative of the conversation: (26.01  ‐  26.05). Every half a measure the situation changes (26.10  ‐  26.11)  ‐ surprise, conviction of each other, (24.14 ‐ 24.15) ‐ two geese. Moreover, it is very interesting that I sometimes allowed myself to smile that Modest Petrovich is not very accurate, if you remember, in the “Castle” for some harmonies he moved from Italy a little to the South‐Spanish harmonies, then here it can not be said that this is the Russian market. No, it’s all‐those French self‐satisfied smokers, self‐satisfied gossips, smug fools (26.47  ‐26.50). The self‐satisfied phrase is incredibly cleverly done (26.55 ‐26.57), and the second person, listening, (27.06 ‐ 27.09) as if to say : yes, yes, yes, yes, yes‐yes‐yes, yes‐yes‐yes‐yes  ‐yes .. In fact, this fragmentation speaks for much more. This is the magic of musical language  ‐ with a thousand associations. Well, I try to do as little as possible to them, not to invest in your ears my own associations. But I just want simply to say, and show to you how fantastically and wittily it is made. So, (27.35 ‐ 27.39) it is a surprise. (27.40 ‐  27.42)  ‐  here begins more and more excited indictment of each other, although the subject of the dispute is already clearly forgotten, it is completely absurd (27.51‐28.07). As you can see, everything reaches complete absurdity. Now I’m exaggerating this a little, in fact, maybe it can be calmer. But Modest Petrovich himself brings to the point of absurdity, when the next two bars are, as a rule, already his crowning device ‐ to show the excitement of the crowd with one note: (28.30 ‐ 28.34). He does it also in Boris Godunov, we can hear it in the scene under Kromy, when agitated  crowds appear. Very cool, he came up with this not to show any chords or a lot of polyphonic conflicts.  No, it is here that (28.53 ‐28.55) the crowd is unified in its general idiocy, when they are already losing all human form. It was precisely these endless disputes that we saw here, which were increasingly crushed and crushed, and crushed and crushed, the gossip becoming shorter and shorter, absurd and more absurd  ‐ (29.12  ‐ 29.18). And our task, if you remember,  ‐ Give the gossip voice (29.21 ‐ 29.23), and the listener, atmospheric ‐ be on the sidelines. That is, to create not a flat atmosphere of our picture or film, if you will, but to create an atmosphere. Because if we play more or less the same, then we will not have depth, we will have a flat, meaningless search of sounds (29.45 ‐ 30.09). And then completely fall into the madness, which can in general, even from the position of the artist, just say ‐ aaaaaaa! ‐ there is nothing more logical here, everything goes out of control, Modest Petrovich brings us back to the first gossip: (30.28 ‐ 30.35 ), again with this clownish laughter ‐ ha‐ha‐ ha‐ha (30.37  ‐ 30.43). And using the same techniques, the same music, with the use of different modulations, creates different situations again: (30.53  ‐ 30.57)  ‐ two geese talking, (30.59  ‐ 31.00)  ‐ one convinces, the second is surprised: (31.04‐31.07) . And then they become completely like chickens, if you remember our chicken ballet, this is the split, yes.

But the female crowd of gossips, gossips excitedly and with great emotional force in a heated set of exchanges that are rooted in chaos and commotion that is common to a tumultuous crowded situation, mimicking the dialect of a chicken coop, and often which is a humorist’s comparison. We see the same thing here: (31.31 ‐31.32) ‐ conviction, (31.34 ‐ 31.35) ‐  objection, (31.36  ‐  31.39)  ‐  everything is already breaking, (31.41  ‐  31.45) Everyone has already forgotten what the conversation is about. Just screaming at each other and jumping in with the desire to convince, only the original impetus or focus is already forgotten. And further on, ‐ as often does Modest Petrovich, and as many composers who are able to engage in narrative have very well artistic images and who, if you use English ‐ story tellers ‐ tell us the story ‐ and this, in general , almost all the composers of the 19th century, as a rule, are romantics ‐ we are told a story. And, in general, this is one of the most valuable abilities of the composer ‐ to tell a story. Either the story of his soul, or some genre scenes. And Mussorgsky, as we know, owns everything.

So, a little epilogue. What does Modest Petrovich say here? He asks ‐ meno mosso, to medium speed, sempre capriccioso, again, to make it as absurdly funny as possible: (32.51  ‐ 33.02). What it is? In principle, the same thing, only as if the camera moves away, the atmospheric driving force remains on the one hand, on the other hand, it is a typical theatrical reception, theatrical, circus, opera, ballet. This is when all actors are already before us ready to bow at the end, after a comedy piece. This is a typical buffoonery. When this is just a parade of fools, or a clown parade. That’s all who spoke, everyone who participated there ‐ as if the action slows down, very often they use it in the ballet ‐ when all the clowns begin to march just before us in the proscenium (33.56  ‐34.07) . And the last measure (34.08  ‐  34.11)  ‐  completely phenomenal again the reception of cinema and sound recording. When accelerating to the end, this is when ‐ we know this very well from movies  ‐  when the absurd reaches a maximum, then this is the acceleration of both sound and imagery. That is, it’s in comedy movies, since the time of silent cinema, but especially in the second half of the 20th century, when (34.44‐34.47) … And to this day it is used in all television comedies , in all shows. Wherever the director wants to emphasize the absurdity, he uses this technique. So, we see that this method has already been invented in fantasy and in the head, and in the soul of musical composers. Then came to the cinematography and audio recordings.

35.15 So, I will play the whole of these last four measures, that is, the parade of fools and the acceleration of the absurd, when the author wants to say to us: Well, God is with you, it will continue ‐ human stupidity is infinite. And he accelerates all this, and leads us to a picture of complete absurdity and how he waves his hand and says that humanity is incorrigible. Well, to this day it is relevant (35.48 ‐ 36.01).

That’s such a small scherzo. Such a rich, funny, parodic, fantastically transmitted atmosphere and fully expresses what the author wanted to tell us.

Many thanks!
(36.31 until the end of the part)

Translated by Svetlana Harris and Todd A Harris

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