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Part 4 “Tuileries”

We have heard two very dark and dramatic pieces: Gnome, which offers us unpleasant features of the Russian subconscious, Russian dwarfs, and terrifying Russian mythology; and then the very sad, piercing “Old Castle”.


Now, Mussorgsky superbly changes mood to that of a very energetic personal storytelling, in which he appears at once as both presenter and observer. After offering one version of his “Id”, if you will, via two dramatic and heavy mood-pieces, he now writes us a very cheerful view of his “inner self”. We know that this idea of self-portraiture looms through the “Pictures”, as the composer’s own picture becomes gradually revealed in all its variations. And thus becomes all encompassing in scope…

To view this whole portrait of Mussorgsky; we must cut out everything extraneous and distracting…. (Modern technology allows us to do this at home) in order to allow ourselves to listen carefully, appreciating all the different aspects Modest Petrovich has to offer of himself, and to hear how it reveals the different aspects of his nature. This will be of interest to anyone who understands our journey into the psyche, and who appreciates the musical depth of this wonderful composer. With an interesting simplicity, he reveals to us his inner drive, the motivational part of his character, as strongly as he does its dramatic and its lyrical aspects. 

Once again, he offers an incredibly instinctual view of his subconscious through a novel but simple two-voice progression – I am left speechless in trying to describe the amazing foresight of his character; he anticipates elements of later 20th century music, which we associate, with the typical progressions of bass guitar in rock music. This is Deep Purple, it’s Led Zeppelin, the great rock bands that fascinated their listeners (and continue to be fascinating through their recordings) with their wonderful drive, and their power, deeply rooted in the powerful energy of street life. Here, in the music of the “Pictures”, we find the same thing, rock and roll. Please pay attention to the progression in this bass line. [3:11]  


The progression of this line completely typifies that of a bass guitar’s played by any leading group today. Look how the bass goes.  [3:32]

What could be better? That is what characterizes the incredible simplicity of, the underpinning “root” strength, if you will, since another word does not come to mind, of what that connects it to the soil. And so this illustrates one of the remarkable traits of Modest Petrovich’s character –he is able to pick himself up after a dramatic, an acutely dramatic beginning.


So, let’s play the whole bridge. This makes obvious the resilient part of the character of Modest Petrovich, which allowed him to endure all the hardships of a life, which, unfortunately, was full of all kinds of them. [4:28] And now we come to the wonderful, bright piece, “Tuileries”, where Modest Petrovich shows his amazing ability to draw with music.


Besides drawing with music, he creates cinematographic images that he envisioned in his mind. And the images actually go beyond mere cinematography, because cinematography does not give us a sense of temperature, or an actual sense of air. Now we are taking the first steps towards realizing 3D cinematography; but in any case only thru great music, such as this music is it possible to produce the rich associations, cinematographic images, and to combine them with those associations that awaken in our physiology purely physiological reflexes, reactions to the temperature, to some pleasant external stimuli…


This is done by music only. And, here is an absolutely extraordinary subtle miniature, where everything is so subtle – how difficult this piece is – it is so subtly painted, that the slightest change in the sonority and weight of just one tone, can change the whole character, and give the wrong portrayal. This is an extremely difficult task for interpreters, and I think that past interpreters did not even try to approach it this way. Let’s try to look – as we usually do – step-by-step, measure by measure (fortunately, there are not many measures in this piece). Let’s see what Modest Petrovich is talking about here. There were simply a lot of children on this picture by Hartmann.


This picture is not preserved, but, according to the memoirs of contemporaries, there were many running children in the garden. That is all, nothing more. So to learn about this picture, we have nothing but this music to rely upon. With little information forthcoming from the outside, then, in principle, of course, the greatest information is provided by the truly magnificent musical text; assuming that we can correctly read musical text, no other information is necessary. Since we know how to read musical text, we may discover information that, perhaps, the creator of the music, himself, did not even consider.


Because, as Shostakovich wrote, even for him – a refined person and a good writer – it was difficult to describe and understand the roles his conscious vs. his subconscious played as participants in his creative process. Was it a fifty-fifty balance or was it tilted to favor the direction of one or the other? In many cases the composer creates a work, lives and passes, not knowing the full influence of his creation, the full breadth and depth of its conception, his picture’s content, if you will; because the talent of a composer is akin to his blood’s chemical composition.


And, just as blood’s analysis uses various sorts of chemical reactions, or microscopes to help us see the microcosm, so the macrocosm of a rich musical text can help us better understand quite a lot if we dive into the well of the creator’s psyche; we can even learn amazing knowledge – From the text itself.


So. [9:41]  Here is an obvious but slight touch of paint. This is quite obvious..[9:51]  The first note is slightly longer, it is slurred with the second note, which ends abruptly. And this is just what appears at a first glance …The fact is, that every musical tone, every tone ratio wakes up a huge number of associations, if the music has a very deep context. And, in no case does it lack inference, nor does it stand-alone.  


At first glance, we wonder about the musical depth of these two fairly primitive consonances, and what they will reveal when we finally fully open our eyes to them. That is, the full degree to which the well of time has led us to the depths of Slavic, Russian roots, is hard to imagine. And Modest Petrovich hardly thought about it. Apparently, it was just programmed in him – that is, he had an innate connection with the absolutely wild Russian pre-Christian roots. Well, let us take a look at it a little deeper. Hence, touching..[11:00]


The next measure. The run. Absolutely obvious. And it repeats itself. So, what is it? Touching and jogging. In today’s language, this is Salochki – a game of a tag. In the language of the mid-nineteenth century – it’s a Pyatnazhki, it is a tag. A little deeper. And we must remember that Modest Petrovich, after all, is a child of the eighteenth century, and not of the nineteenth one. Although the nineteenth century was his heyday, he was produced by the previous century. That is, although we are now almost in the middle of the 21-st century, our generation still makes us children of the 20-th century.


Similarly, we must look at each creator in art this way. What preceded him? For example, Pushkin is a child of the eighteenth century. He thinks like a man of the eighteenth century, and his mentality is that of a man of the eighteenth century, although his whole life fell in the nineteenth one. But, nevertheless, he was brought up in the eighteenth century. The same is true here. So, we go deeper into history and come to the same old game, of which Modest Petrovich probably thought when he wrote this piece – Goryelki. Now we are closer. We are closer to the roots. That is, he, of course, from his grandmothers and nannies … and in his childhood, probably, participated in this game, consisting of running.  


Goryelki is a pre-Christian game. This is a pure ritual of the wildest orgiastic celebrations of Kupala Day. Hopping over the bon fire … these are akin to such wild half-shaman spells …And from this, [13:11] it would seem, simple and innocent touching, leads to being tagged …


And what did was said when one was tagged ? They said Voda – in the first sense, who leads, who will “ burn”.  [13:24]  There are still many rhymes that could have served as lyrics to this chant. But it seems to me that it is….best characterized by the word “Voda, Voda”, [13:38and the children run. “Run run go be the first to tag someone else !”


“But continued study of the harmonic progression reveals how events develop here …  [13:53] 

Strangely, these simple harmonies lead us into harmonies with wildly Slavonic roots.[14:26] On the one hand, there is some mechanical movement which is typical of small children. They are small, and often their movements are mechanical. This, of course, is also picked up by Mussorgsky. But, on the other hand, here is this wild, mechanistic, and such savage vocal cooings which come from the most ancient cult Slavic rituals. [15:13] 

There are very, very ancient roots here. And, I repeat, we will never be able to tell whether Modest Petrovich was consciously thinking about this, or whether it was all genetically inherited through his blood. Yes, in the end, it does not matter. 

The most important thing is that we, having gone thru the well of time, into this temporary abyss, through this music, through these simple consonances, have been transported into the cosmos of pre-Christian Slavs. This is absolutely amazing. It is amazing, it is extraordinary.


Well, let’s go further …  [16:00] with our game Goryelki-Pyatnazhki.

Voices run around, imitating the direction of the running children. [16:12]

One runs in one direction.. [16:16]

And another voice shows us a run in an opposite way. . [16:19]

Converging again, as if to say, “Vodi, lead us”. There is an awesome sound effect here. The combination of just two bars, look…[16:28] 

Kids are running in one plain. And in another one. [16:34]  ”Voda!” – The voice is heard from a completely different distant point. That is, someone escaped – this is shown in music by such simple methods, creating an acoustically geographic effect.


We see the distance, look.  [16:53]

From the distance the child’s voice shouts, “I am here!” And the rest run to him.  [17:06]

Incredibly simple and amazingly effective. At one time …


This is not the first children’s musical sketch made by Modest Petrovich. He became famous already when he created a small vocal cycle called “Children’s”. All was devoted to children. Seems there are seven songs in here, if I am not mistaken.


Liszt saw these songs and was completely amazed. After that, he dreamed of meeting Mussorgsky. Unfortunately, Mussorgsky did not come to this meeting, although he was expected to and Liszt waited for him with no result. But either his work did not allow him to make time for the visit, the rather disgusting and difficult work preventing it; equally probable was that he deliberately avoided this meeting, since his clearly anti-Western leanings would make it unlikely that he would interrupt his job solely for the purpose of meeting with the popular musician Liszt, despite the temptation of doing so. As usual, he went his own way. And, I believe it is likely that he just did not want to meet with him. So Liszt was awed by the imagery of “Children’s”, so much so that he wished to dedicate a piece to Mussorgsky right away…And when Mussorgsky learned of this reaction to his work, his very childish response to the matter was characteristic of a naive child genius. He said:” I wonder, what useful things could Liszt find in there for himself? “Because, in general, children are trivialities, but, they ARE Russian trivialities! That is, since it was natural for him to express everything through music, including the fact that, although the kids are all the same, he nevertheless still expresses the nationality of the toddlers, even though we colloquially call small children bugs. So as a subtle artist, his outlook was naturally broadened by his inherently deep understanding of things. Although to us, his remark is absolutely striking. His deep feelings are subtly transmitted all through his music.

So, We part with the children,  [19:42]  when someone runs away, after tagging a new person and calling out, Voda, or “burning.” Then the grand pause. And the middle part begins.


The middle part is always a small intermezzo. [20:02]

Here, the touching or tagging has been made, and the game is put aside. We clearly see a small romance. 5 As we know, the game Goryelki is played by pairings: a boy-girl, a boy-girl, a boy-girl. And, thus comes the goal…Because later, adults began to play this game too. And they thus chose their fiancée, got acquainted … Well, the kids just talked the same way – boys and girls. And here it is quite obvious that there is a little romance between the kids. [20:49]

I want to tell you that everything is fine here … Here, let’s say … [20:58] this is … 6/16 notes here.

If we play it [21:09]  a little denser, then it will be a run with our feet.

And if you play very intimately and lightly,[21:18] you imbue the music with something of a childlike personality, sounding like transparent silver laughter.


This is so … Here, so here is the most serious and difficult task for the interpreter. This is the definition of “interpretation”. Interpretation is not just the act of people playing the same material differently – it is educated people playing music guided by their individual intuition – instinctually knowing, deep within the broad “factory” of the musician’s mind, what, in fact, the subject is all about….


And you can interpret it, just using the different colors … Give a little more gold, see where the jog is, and where the laughter is. But it is necessary to know what this is all about, what is at stake, and what each tone of this or that work says, one way or another. Naturally, we are talking about works with rich content. Other works are not so programmatic or defined in such a decorative way – this work already belongs to a completely different sort of music.



A Small change [22:22], modulation. And we immediately see coquetry. Children’s coquetry. The adult will not flirt like that. It is mechanistic, it is childish. The amazing look at children is not like looking at them as dolls, as unfortunately many adults do, but instead this is the look of the great artist and of a pure great heart; he treats children with understanding, knowing of their inner rich and completely different world. Only very few people – only genuine great philosophers – treat and understand children and respect their world in such a way.


We meet such a spirit, the great philosopher and great humanist Modest Petrovich, in his very music . [23:16] Two measures pass by. And everything changes [23:30] in the span of 4 notes.


Something very serious is happening here between toddlers. A little romance. Everything changes: the temperature changes, the colors change – there is more sun, the character changes, the situation changes, the narrative changes in a span of two bars! [24:01] In a span of four notes … and a change of harmony. We see the golden aura of this musical painting, an incredible tenderness with intimacy. It is amazing that such vivid colors can be be achieved by such simple means – it is a mystery for me. Although, there is nothing to analyze here – these are very simple harmonies. And there are only one, two, three, four, five, six chords in here.  


Magic. [24:44] And when all ends, the return of the previous material begins. That is, the whole romance lasted one and a half seconds.


And then it returned to the tag. [25:04]  And, with some tension. Running through.

And, quite obviously,  [25:15]  there are two voices.

Surely, of two toddlers, holding hands. [25:22]

And the third one runs from below. [25:25]

[25:28]  And then we revisit the first situation.

Again, this ancient gathering calls out. And we hear the last echo. [25:41]  Then everything disappear. Vision.


A few bars. A little … a little more than a minute of time. And such a masterpiece! Which, probably, is the most difficult piece of all “Pictures”. Then, try explaining to musicians, who, apart from their notes, do not see anything and do not hear that this is the most difficult piece.


And therein poses the real difficulty in explaining creativity – it does not consist of the incredible, striking tempos, or the richness of the texture, as musicians say – it just lies in the simplest of things. And here, where the character and mood of the narrative can change from one tone to the next, just one tone wrongly played a mere milligram heavier than the previous one can completely destroy the magic of the whole piece. One misinterpreted note!


This is the most transcendental, incredible difficulty presented to the interpreter – he must walk as a tightrope walker would when crossing over an abyss. And there are a small number of people who understand how to do that. 

​I am hopeful that, after our journey through “Pictures,” both listeners and musicians alike understand the true tasks of creativity, the true tasks of the art of making music, the real tasks of the interpreter. 

Many thanks! 


 [27:35] – Tuileries

                                                                                            Translated by Svetlana Harris and Todd A Harris

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