Russian architect and painter Viktor Hartmann was born in St Petersburg in 1834 and produced countless sketches, watercolors and even early photographs of cathedrals and other architectural wonders not only in Russia but France, Italy, Germany and Poland, as well as his own original designs. Through following a movement that sought to depict a distinctly Russian aesthetic, he met Russian composers pursuing the same ideal in music. This group of composers included Modest Mussorgsky, with whom Hartmann became close friends. Hartmann’s sudden death of a brain aneurysm at age 39 (1873) shook Mussorgsky (and other Russian artists) and an exhibition of over 400 of Hartmann’s artworks was assembled in his honor in early 1874. Moved by the exhibition, Mussorgsky composed a suite of ten “pictures” for solo piano inspired Hartmann’s artworks on display. Nearly fifty years later, in 1922, Maurice Ravel brilliantly orchestrated the piano suite. Hear the orchestral color he added to Mussorgsky’s piano sketches in the orchestrated “Pictures at an Exhibition” for today’s Midday Masterpiece.
Incidentally, of the more than 400 works displayed at the Exhibition, today only about sixty-five can be accounted for, and only images of six of the ten artworks that inspired Mussorgsky. Above is Hartmann’s proposed design that inspired Mussorgsky’s famous “Great Gate of Kyiv” final movement.