Color the Music

A collaboration of art and music for ages 5-17


Springtime “Color the Music” Project


“Pictures At An Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky (1874)

BACKGROUND on “Pictures at an Exhibition”

Modest Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881) was a Russian nationalist composer. He had a very good friend, Viktor Hartmann (1834 -- 1873) who was an architect and artist. Hartmann died unexpectedly at the age of 39 and Mussorgsky was devastated by his untimely death. In 1874 Vladimir Stasov, a respected Russian critic and supporter of the arts, organized an exhibition of over 400 of Hartmann’s sketches, paintings (watercolors), and costume designs. Mussorgsky was inspired by this exhibition and composed a suite of ten piano pieces creating a musical illustration of some of the art he had seen:

A gnome-shaped nutcracker,

a troubadour singing outside an old castle,

children playing in a park,

a Polish ox-cart,

peeping chicks hatching from their shells,

two elderly Jewish men (one rich and one poor)

a crowded marketplace

the catacombs of Paris

the hut of an ugly bone-chomping witch of Russian folklore

the award-winning design for an entrance gate to Kiev

Viktor Hartmann studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg and started his artistic career by illustrating books and as an architect. Most of his watercolors and pencil drawings were done while on journeys abroad between 1864 and 1868. Unfortunately, most of his works from the exhibition have been lost.

CREATING AN ARTWORK for our Spring Exhibition

Use the following link to hear the complete orchestral version (Maurice Ravel arranged the 10 piano pieces for orchestra in 1922 and this is the version that will be played by National Philharmonic at their concert.)

Choose one (or more) of the movements (including the opening promenade) and create an artwork depicting the music you hear. Think about what Mussorgsky might have see at the exhibition that inspired him to compose his music.

To see copies of the surviving pictures from the exhibition of Hartmann’s work:

Art should on white paper either 81/2x 11 inches or 11x17 inches in size. Accepted artwork will be displayed in the Strathmore Hall lobby the weekend of April 22-23 during the National Philharmonic’s concerts.

Deadline for submitting artwork is MARCH 24, 5pm at National Philharmonic Offices or EMAIL:

The timings for each of the movements on this video are here for your convenience, along with notes about each one.

0:00 – 1:38 --“Promenade” – “walking music” as people move through the exhibition. The video shows a picture of the composer Mussorgsky.

Mussorgsky imagined himself walking through the exhibition of his friend’s art – sometimes leisurely, sometimes quickly, and sometimes sadly thinking of his friend. The Promenade theme appears after “picture #1”, #2, #4, #6 in varied lengths, tempos, dynamics, and mood. “The Great Gates of Kiev” (#10) includes the Promenade theme in an even walking meter.

#1. 1:39 – 4:08 – “Gnomus” – this depicts a toy similar to a nutcracker.

(4:08 – 5:09 – “Promenade” )

#2. 5:10 – 9:40 --- “Il Vecchio Castello” – The Old Castle. Although there is no artwork in the actual exhibition by this name, it is known that Hartmann did

several architectural watercolors on a trip to italy and often included humans with his buildings to show the scale of the buildings. In this case he painted a troubadour singing outside the castle wall.

(9:42 – 10:19 – “Promenade”)

#3. 10:19 -- 11:21 -- “Tuileries” – a large park in Paris with many children playing.

#4. 11:22 – 13:49 – “Bydlo” – (Polish word for ‘cattle’). This music depicts a cart with very large wheels being pulled by an ox.

(13:50 – 14:45 – “Promenade”)

#5. 14:47 – 15:57 – “Ballet de Poussins Dans Coques” (Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks) – this is based on a costume designed for a ballet, ‘Trilby’, presented in St. Petersburg in 1871. Dancers portray canaries enclosed in shells.(design sketches survived)

#6. 15:58 --18:12 – “Samuel Goldenberg and Shmuel” – Mussorgsky owned two drawings by Hartmann entitled A Rich Jew Wearing a Fur Hat and A Poor Jew:Sandomierz which he loaned to the exhibition . (Portraits survived)

#7. 18:14 – 19:36 – “Limoges de Marche” (The Marketplace at Limoges) drawing

did not survive.

#8. 19:37 – 23:45 – “Catacombe” and “Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua” -- Catacombe is a self-portrait of Hartmann, a friend and a guide holding a lamp in the catacombs of Paris. Music is in two sections. (Drawing survived)

#9. 23:47 – 27:09 – “La Cabane sur des pattes de poule” – (The Hut on Fowls’ Legs” ) . (inspired by a Russian clock – drawing survived)

#10 -27:10 – 32:00 – “The Great Gate of Kiev” – Hartman had designed a series of stone gates to replace the wooden city gates to commemorate Tsar Alexander II’s escape from an assassination attempt in the spring of 1866. It won the national competition for design and was a massive structure decorated with tinted brick with the imperial eagle on top and a 3-story belfry with a cupola on top. The gate was never built. (Sketches survived)

Sign Up To Join Our Mailing List

Sign up for our monthly newsletter and event announcements.