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Modest Mussorgsky composed “Pictures at an Exhibition” in June 1874 as a piano suite However, Maurice Ravel redid it for orchestra, premiering its first performance on October 19, 1923. Proving that any good work can be reinterpreted multiple ways, the piece resurfaced as “one of the seminal documents of the progressive rock era” BE when Emerson, Lake, & Palmer put their stamp on it.
Mussorgsky’s original work was inspired by a memorial retrospective of some 400 drawings and watercolors by Viktor Hartmann. Hartmann was a St. Petersburg artist, architect, and stage designer, who was friends with Mussorgsky.
It was edited for publication in 1886 by Rimsky-Korsakov. Over the next century, more than a dozen versions surfaced, “but none that challenge the finesse, subtlety, and cumulative impact of Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937).” RD In 1913, Ravel, “France’s foremost living composer,” RD was commissioned to score what had been omitted from Rimsky-Korsakov’s version. BD He went on to lead “the world and American premieres (the latter with his Boston Symphony in 1926).” RD
Prog-rock group Emerson, Lake, & Palmer performed it live in 1971. The performance was released as an album and “made its way into the collections of millions of high-school kids who never heard of [Mussorgsky or Hartmann].” BE “It wasn’t the first treatment of a classical piece in this manner by any means…but it was the first to reach a mass audience or get heavy radio play (at least of excerpts), and introduced the notion of ‘classical rock’ to millions of listeners.” BE
- one of the top 1000 albums/works of all time
- Grammy Hall of Fame
- National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress
- Classical Works – Top 50
- the DMDB page for Pictures at an Exhibition
Modest Mussorgsky’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
- RD Roger Dettmer, All Music Guide
- BE Bruce Eder, All Music Guide