Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Visualization reversed or do you dare?

I won't have to make it any clearer that there are hundreds of ways to visualize a thought, feeling, mood or anything else. There are at least as much roads to visualization as there are people setting their minds and hands to it. In my post Visualization fantastique I gave a couple of examples all based on one piece of music. Now I want to try to trigger your minds in doing exactly the opposite.

A very well known piece of music is "Pictures at an exhibition" by Modest Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881). It was orignally composed for piano around 1874 in honour of the artist and architect Victor Hartman (1834 - 1873), a close friend of Mussorgsky, who had died at the age of only 39. In commemoration of Hartman about 400 pictures were exhibited in the Academy of fine Arts in St. Petersburg. Mussorgsky, still shaken by the sudden death of his good friend and an admirer of his art, then needed only about 6 weeks to compose his virtual tour through the museum.

The original piece consists of 15 movements:
  • Promenade
  • Gnomus The gnome
  • Interlude (Promenade theme)
  • Il vecchio castello The old castle
  • Tuileries (Dispute d'enfants après jeux) Dispute between children at play
  • Bydło Cattle
  • Interlude (Promenade theme)
  • Ballet Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
  • Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuÿle also known as 2 Jews, one rich the other poor
  • Promenade
  • Limoges, le marché (La grande nouvelle) The market at Limoges (The great News)
  • Catacombæ (Sepulcrum romanum) and "Cum mortuis in lingua mortua" The Catacombs and With the Dead in a Dead Language
  • Baba-Yaga The Hut on Fowl's Legs
  • The great gates of Kiev The Bogatyr Gates
It is easy to see that Mussorgsky wanted to take his listener by the hand and walk with him through the halls of the Academy. He wanted to recreate in the minds of those who heard his music the pictures he had seen and loved so much. Maybe (but this is a wild guess on my side and not even an educated one at that) he even wanted to make us part of his loss and grief. Unfortunately, most of Hartmans paintings didn't survive today so we do not know what Mussorgsky saw and have little more than his music to testify for their existence.

Apart from the music being very inspirational in itself it has inspired others as well. For example, Maurice Ravel made an orchestration that has now become more known that the original version. But also Emerson, Lake and Palmer have made their own version, as did Isao Tomita. They all added a personal note to their own stroll through the museum and all evoke a different sensation. ELP even went so far as to add a few pieces of their own, thereby making their tour a very personal one.

Now my question to you is: when you listen to the music, what images come to your mind? Are they vivid? Colourful? Real or abstract? Does your imigination cling onto the title of the movement or are you able to let go and just drift away? Does it make a difference whether you listen to the original or to the orchestration?

In order not to give away to much, the pictures in this post are not of the music you can listen to below, nor will I tell you what movement is played except that all videos are of the same movement. Of course it is easy to cheat, as most video's will tel you what movement is played... But face the real challenge and just listen, eyes closed. Do you dare?

The original:

The orchestrated version:

The Emerson, Lake and Palmer version:

The version by Isao Tomita:

An unknown (to me at least) surprising version:

I would love to hear what you come up with and will later share my own visions. If you have any versions I didn't mention, please let me know!


  1. ah, Dees, you are a master at making us think! My computer refuses to do these downloads, but I do have to admit that when I listen to music, read a book, peruse a poem, I don't wonder about what the artist was trying to say. I only listen for my enjoyment. I don't necessarily think that's a good thing, but that's how I am. It is rather intriguing, however, to know why something is written. This is why I had so much trouble in English & Literature classes. I never could understand how I was supposed to figure out what the artist/writer was saying. It just IS. Hope I didn't disappoint you!

  2. Pam, how could you dissappoint me! At least I got you thinking didn't I? It's not a competition I'm after, just making people think and sharing what makes me tick... Hope you enjoyed the music, and if you did: be sure to listen to all of it somehow. It's one of my favorite pieces.

  3. This is an amazing post, Dees! You must have spent hours and hours putting it all together.

    It's funny about visual images being stimulated by music... I never let that part of my music appreciation develop until I hooked up with my husband 12 years ago.

    He does it all the time... His imagination goes wild, narrating the rapidly changing scenes. I'm always amazed at the odd things he "sees."

    Gradually, his influence has rubbed off on me, so that now I sometimes visualize too! It's fabulous!!! Thanks for this excellent discussion of the topic!


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