None of the orchestrations, however, change the fundamental spirit of the piece. Mussorgsky imagines himself making his way down the hallway that showcased his late friend's work, with his stately procession represented by the Promenade that opens the piece and returns several times. Upon stopping at each image, he reflects on what he sees. Between the early movements, the promenade returns regularly, as Mussorgsky is conscious of moving from one scene to the next. As the work progresses, however, he becomes less aware of the interval between pictures, and more immersed in the continuous psychological experience of moving from one state of mind to the next. By the end, the composer sees himself transformed by the connection with Hartman through his visual expressions of Russian pride and humanity.
- Gnomus. This movement is fairly self-explanatory, although it would be fascinating to see the picture – reportedly of a gnome-shaped nutcracker – that inspired such thorny writing from Mussorgsky. Ravel, in his orchestration, uses a wide variety of percussion instruments, adding to the mysterious, otherwordly atmosphere.
- The Old Castle. The Hartman sketch evidently depicted a troubadour outside of an old castle, with his song here carried by the alto saxophone. The saxophone never really caught on as an orchestral instrument, and its rare appearances are usually in works by early 20th-century French composers (including Ravel) or jazz- influenced Americans (especially Gershwin). Here, the noble and exotic quality of the saxophone's sound makes it an ideal choice. The saxophone plays in no other movement of the piece.
- Tuileries. This movement is the shortest of the work (except for some of the promenades), and captures the simplicity of Paris gardens with their visitors.
- Bydlo. Bydlo means "ox-cart," and the movement seems to summon the spirit of peasant workers. The strain of the melody is captured by assigning it to a low brass instrument. Ravel specified "tuba" but wrote the part in a much higher range than the tuba player is asked to play in anywhere else in the piece. Some orchestral tuba players bring along a second, higher-pitched instrument for this movement only; the present performance assigns the solo to the euphonium.
- Ballet of Chicks in their Shells. This is the first movement for which the sketch has been positively identified. Hartman was assisting in the costume design for a ballet production, and the sketch shows two people wearing egg-shaped outfits and wearing chick "helmets." The agitated peeps of the chicks are captured in high woodwinds and pizzicato strings.
- Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle. Hartman created two independent sketches of Jewish men – one rich (with a fur hat) and the other poor (sitting by the street with a cane). The rich Jew is represented by the brash strings (and some woodwinds) in the opening of the movement, whereas the poor Jew, asking for money, is realized by the high trumpet in an annoying, repetitive figure. Rather than convey an anti-Semitic message, the composer probably sought to make a social commentary: the rich and poor live in separate worlds, and it is far too easy for the rich to take no notice of those who have been less fortunate.
- Limoges. Probably the most colorfully orchestrated movement, this lightfooted scherzo depicts women gossiping at a French market. The melody is passed back and forth between the violins and various woodwind instruments, all while a diverse group of percussion instruments contributes to the feeling of general chaos.
- Catacombae. From the bustle of the market place, the listener is plunged into the foreboding underground. Almost entirely focused on the brass, this movement moves with deathly slowness, making its way through eerily shifting harmonies. Because the sound of the piano necessarily starts to decay after the keys have been struck, making the instrument incapabale of a true sustained sound, this movement benefits more than many of the others from an orchestral treatment. The following section, Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua, is a transformation of the promenade melody; the Latin translates to "With the Dead in a dead language." Visible in the sketch for "Catacombae" is a cage full of skulls, and Mussorgsky wrote in the margin of his piano original, "The creative genius of Hartman leads me to the skulls and invokes them; the skulls begin to glow."
- The Hut on Fowl's Legs. Given such a bizarre title, the Hartman sketch is a disappointment. The "hut" is a clock, perhaps of a size to sit on a desk (although the scale of the sketch is hard to determine); the "fowl's legs" are small chicken legs, easily overlooked, incorporated into the body of the clock base. More important in understanding the character of the movement is Mussorgsky's subtitle, "Baba Yaga." Baba Yaga is a witch from Russian fairy tales, living ina hut with hen's legs which permit it to rotate in place. Each new victim (a lost child) is lured inside and crushed to death, to be later eaten by the witch. Hartman intended his sketch of the clock to be reminiscent of Baba Yaga's mysterious hut, so Mussorgsky used the sketch as a springboard to write a movement about the witch herself.
- The Great Gate of Kiev. In the spirit of greatest nationalistic affirmation, Mussorgsky drew inspiration from a patriotic competition for the final movement of the work. Hartman had submitted a design to be considered for the proposed new, grand entrance to Kiev, which was to commemorate Alexander II's successful escape from assassination there. No winner for the contest was ever selected, and no gate was ever built. Still, Hartman's impressive design received attention and a following, due to its resonance with the Russian people's pride of their nation and heritage. Hartman's sketch included a chapel, and Kiev had a long history of religious importance, so Mussorgsky adopted a sense of reverence in his tribute to the would-be gate and its city. The piano original is no match for the splendor of Ravel's orchestration, especially in the full chords that end the piece – leading some scholars to conjecture that Mussorgsky thought of his piece in orchestral terms from the very beginning.
In the introduction, the knight’s beclouded brain is suggested by the momentary use of mutes in all the instruments and strange harmonies, bordering on the atonal. In the first variation, we are introduced (via woodwinds and strings) to the Don’s unattainable love, Dulcinea, and there ensues the fight with evil giants, in fact windmills, ending with the Don’s graphic fall from his horse (harp glissando). Variation II is the infamous contest with the army of the “Great Emperor Alifanfaron,” in actuality a flock of sheep (you can’t miss them). Critics of Strauss’ time were particularly outraged by this all-too-realistic cacophony.
Variation III is a quiet dialog in which the Don reproves Sancho for his lack of ideals. IV is another battle scene, this time a losing battle against a procession of penitents, whom the Don mistakes for a band of robbers, bent on abducting a statue of the Virgin Mary. Variation V: The Don has been solidly trounced, but hardly defeated. He conjures up a vision of Dulcinea to give him courage (horn, harp, violins).
Variation VI “relates” a trick played on the Don by Sancho, who leads his master to believe that the first hip-swinging, tambourine-slapping señorita they encounter in the street is Dulcinea. The Don fulminates against the wizards who have turned his goddess into this floozy. Variation VII finds the Don and Sancho Panza seated on hobby-horses, imagining themselves flying through the air, the atmosphere created by a relative newcomer to the orchestra’s battery in 1897, the wind machine. VIII: In this wacky F-major barcarolle, the Don and Sancho are floating in an oarless boat toward a threatening water-mill (oboe and violin). The boat capsizes but the two manage to save themselves; they thank God in a passage marked religioso. Religion – a most confusing subject for the Don – is likewise a part of IX, where he encounters a pair of monks, conversing in the strict counterpoint of a pair of bassoons, who he thinks are evil wizards. He puts them to rout in his routing key, D minor.
In Variation X a townsman of the Don’s, Sanson Carasco, disguised as “The Knight of the White Moon,” challenges the Don to combat and emerges victorious. Sanson has in fact devised this as a way of leading Don Quixote back into sanity. In the Finale, the veil indeed lifts and the Don, sadly perhaps, is again in possession of his cognitive faculties. He is ready for death, and, as Cervantes writes, quoting the notary in attendance, “Never has a mind died so mildly, so peacefully, so Christianly.”
Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 6, "Pastorale"
Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations
Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol
Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky: Suite from Swan Lake
Suite from the Nutcracker
Richard Strauss: Don Juan
Ein Heldenleben ("The Hero's Life")