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Mussorgsky, Dvorak & Barber

To describe music to a deaf person (presumably communicating by writing) is an impossible task. Words themselves can at best produce a pale, insubstantial, and merely suggestive account of the intentionally organized, emotionally felt sounds from which music is produced. Nonetheless I will try to use them to at least give an account of a hypothetical symphonic concert featuring the work of Mussorgsky, Dvorak, and Barber.

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was a member of a group of young composers dominated by Balakirev (others were CTsar Cui, Alexander Borodin, and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov) "who all believed that Russian music was the greatest thing since sliced bread" (Barker 1996). Their Russian nationalism

led them to use native folk music themes and forms, and to reject the European influences favored by Tchaikovsky and Anton Rubinstein.

Mussorgsky came from a wealthy aristocratic family, worked as government bureaucrat, and died tragically from alcoholism at the early age of 42. His Pictures at an Exhibition was originally written for piano as a memorial to his artist friend Victor Hartmann, whose posthumous exhibition inspired the piece, but the music is much better known from its masterful but restrained orchestration by French composer Maurice Ravel.

Ravel's version consists mostly of woodwinds (flutes, piccolo, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons) and brass (saxophone, horns, trumpets, trombones, and tuba), as well as a mixture of plucked and bowed strings and percussion. A "promenade" theme begins the work, and ties together the ten subsequent pieces, which vary greatly in mood, tempo, dynamics, and orchestration. The chirping of baby chickens is imitated by woodwinds, gloomy brass evokes the darkness of catacombs, the terror of witchcraft is expressed through percussion, and the final theme attains its grandeur through the massed sounds of brass, woodwinds, strings, and percussion. The Old Castle is a q


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Mussorgsky, Dvorak & Barber. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:58, June 15, 2019, from