Sunday, February 1, 2009

My Comrades!

In the last month or so, I have decided to renew my interest in the Russian arts. In general, I love most any work of art created from the time period 1880-1920. That Romantic/Impressionist era, regardless of country. Books, music, art. All good stuff. Love it.

When I was in high school and early in college, I really liked Russian literature from that time period. Dostoyevsky, Chekov, Tolstoy. I never took it far enough to get into Gogol, Turgenev, Pushkin, et al and think I will this year. I'm reading Turgenev right now.

This post is about music, though. I've been listening to one of my favorite pieces lately. Modest Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. The thing is, I really don't care for Moussorgsky's original composition. He wrote it as a suite of pieces for the piano. The Frenchman Maurice Ravel took it and arranged it for orchestra and made it really beautiful and powerful which is ironic in a sense in that Moussorgsky was often criticized for not making his music strong and militant like so much of the Russian music of that era was.

Moussorgsky is also well known for his Night on Bald Mountain. It was used in the Disney movie Fantasia.

Here's the orchestral version of the final movement, The Great gate of Kiev (note, this is conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Russian pianist, who has done his own arrangement and orchestration of this which differs from Ravel's. I can't tell much difference but I'm no musicologist.I'm not even sure this is Ashkenazy's version.):

And here's the piano version (again by a Russian, Vladimir Horowitz. The Great Gate of Kiev starts at about the 3:20 point. Baba Yaga's Hut, the next-to-last movement begins this clip):

Don't get me wrong. I still like it. Horowitz does a better job than most of matching the depth that the orchestra brings to this piece. As originally written, though, it's just a nice piano piece whereas I feel turning it into an orchestral piece makes it more "Russian" sounding.

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