05 January 2010

Music | Mussorgsky and friends

This is the first piece of classical music I can remember, and it remains my favourite.

My father told me about the piece, sitting up on his knee. I think I would have been four or five years old: “This is a piece that a man wrote to remember his friend after he died, because he liked him so much.”

I think the story went: Mussorgsky has a best friend, a fellow artist, who died suddenly. He was so heartbroken, he created these pieces for him, to be played during an exhibition.

Quite plainly: it's a touching story.


Pictures at an Exhibition is a suite in ten movements composed for piano by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874.

No apologies that this isn't the perfect version. I think the more amateur the better. (The one on wikipedia is particularly lovely). Heartbreak isn't perfect. It's wavering and coarse. The perfect version of this piece feel fake.

If you want to hear pain, longing and platonic heartbreak in a short tune, listen to the Promenade (the first).

It starts with a solitary trumpet. Alone. Friendless. More brass join the tune, but act as a mere echo. The music builds in intensity, until finally the calmed by a chorus of violins, like a response from another side? Or sometime. Something nice.

And wouldn't this just be perfect for film?

"...the most sublime noise... ever to have penetrated the ear of man."
      — said in reference to Beethoven's 5th Symphony in Howards End (1992)

I think we all have (or should have?) a piece of music or art that just resonates with you in perfect unison. For my father it's Handel's Water Music - every time he listens he stops, his eyes stare into nothingness, lost in the beauty.  For Jessica, my sister, it's Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1. I asked my friend Chelsea, and she said that for her there's no equivalent to Tennyson's verse:
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.