Max’s lessons

Musorgski / Pictures at an Exhibition

  1. Lesson
 The second piece, titled "Gnome," begins abruptly and without
preparation, evoking surprise and fear due to its strong and
unsettling imagery. Hartmann's painting represents a costume sketch
for the evil dwarf Chernomor from Pushkin's poem "Ruslan and
Ludmila." Therefore, it is not just a mere figurative representation
of a dwarf, but through the conceptual design of the costume,
particularly the menacing pose and expression on the face with wide-
open eyes and a huge gray beard being spread apart by the dwarf's
hand, it provokes the character's nature from Pushkin's poem.
It should be noted that Musorgsky evidently used Hartmann's
drawings, sketches, and paintings merely as a starting point and
foundation for his own fantasies. In many cases, Hartmann's works
have a sketch-like style, serving as precise instructions, as seen
in the case of the Gnome. The caricatural nature of these works
served as simplified and clear visual instructions or references for
the costume and set designers.
Thus, some of these pieces do not necessarily contain the deeper
meaning and character that we can hear in Musorgsky's transposition.
Therefore, one can conclude that the composer, being in contact with
Hartmann's works, was emotionally stirred and excited (we know from
his friends' letters that Hartmann's death deeply affected him).
This is further supported by the problem of alcoholism, which
certainly influenced the heightened sensitivity and lack of
composure of the great composer.
Hartmann's sketch of the evil gnome, depicting him spreading his
gray beard to better reveal the patterns on his attire, is for
Modest Mussorgsky evidently something much more significant. In
Mussorgsky's interpretation, the dwarf, by spreading his beard with
his hand, reveals his evil nature, the appearance of his unfortunate
physiognomy that causes horror and fear in the composer.
In the musical flow, we recognize chromatic movements, sudden
melodic turns that serve to surprise and frighten. In the middle
section, written in a piano dynamic, we sense the deceitfulness of
the evil dwarf Chernomor. The chromatic waves in the left hand
depict agitated breathing, and the final passage represents a scream
and escape from the unpleasant impression that this Hartmann
painting produced in the composer.