Pianistic Mastery of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition: Developing Associative Thinking through Analysis of Musical Texture

Ana Cristea, University of Miami


This essay is a detailed analytical and performance guide for pianists who seek musical, technical, and interpretational recommendations and answers during the process of learning Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The author of this study analyzes the composer’s manner of depicting visual images through pianistic texture and provides possible solutions for the work’s technical and interpretive challenges. The learning approach presented in this essay advocates associative thinking and musical creativity in accordance with the original score, the composer’s initial sources of inspiration, and his biographical context. This study is organized into five chapters, with the first three serving a prefatory purpose (I. Introduction, II. Literature Review, and III. Method). The fourth chapter presents an overview of Mussorgsky’s life and selected piano and vocal works. It underlines the most important factors and events that have contributed to the formation of the composer’s aesthetic beliefs. The final, fifth chapter is dedicated to the textural analysis of Pictures at an Exhibition, examining elements of structure, articulation, dynamics, and phrasing. In addition, this chapter includes a discussion on each movement’s performance aspect, providing interpretive suggestions throughout the piece, and potential solutions for some of the work’s most technically challenging excerpts. For the purpose of clarity and ease of reference, this essay includes several musical examples and the six available illustrations of Hartmann’s paintings that correspond to selected movements from Mussorgsky’s suite.