A Czar on a Fool's Errand
While I do not consider myself a musical aficionado, I love the music that I pick. When I was at Muskingum College back a half century ago, Louie Palmer taught a required 10-hour art history class called The Arts, which could be taken in your junior or senior year. I took it as a junior. At the end of that year, Louie asked me to be his student assistant my senior year. He had me teach several subsections each week. Essentially, I took The Arts twice. That was a life-changing moment. In the past 15-years, I have taught art history at two universities.
Aside from the learning about art and the history surrounding it, Louie would play various pieces of classical music as students came to the 3-lectures or the subsections. As students entered the classroom, they heard a great classic montage of music. Over those two years, I heard a vast variety of classical music. It was there in The Arts that I first heard and fell in love with Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, especially the Promenade and The Great Gate of Kiev.
I have listened to Mussorgsky music since my days at Muskingum. Mussorgsky was interested in writing music that reflected Russia. He did not want to compose European-esque music in Russia.
Interestingly, Vladimir Stasov, an art critic and friend, introduced Mussorgsky to Victor Hartmann, and artist, around 1870. Mussorgsky and Hartmann became friends especially in their interest in producing purely Russian art.
Just prior to Hartmann and Mussorgsky meeting, Czar Alexander II avoided an assassination attempt...one of several. He named this particular one "the event of 4 April 1866." In addition, the czar was so delighted at not being killed that he conducted a national contest in honor of his deliverance from death. He would immortalize that event by building some monument or building that the people of Russia suggested.
Hartmann drew a gate for the city of Kiev as his entry into Alexander's national contest to celebrate his avoidance of an assassination attempt on his life. This is a picture of Hartmann's The Great Gate of Kiev, which won the czar's contest.
Sadly, Hartmann tragically dies of an aneurysm just several years after Stasov introduced him to Mussorgsky. In 1874, Stasov sets-up a memorial to Hartmann at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. In his memorial, he displays 400-pieces of Hartmann's artwork. Mussorgsky attends the memorial and is so moved by Hartmann's paintings that he composed an entire suite, Pictures at an Exhibition, in a month.
Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is musically what he saw while walking through the academy's various rooms in which Hartmann's paintings were displayed. My favorite parts of the Pictures at an Exhibition are The Great Gate of Kiev and the Promenade. Mussorgsky used the Promenade as traveling music while walking from room to room at the academy.
I have always wanted to travel to Kiev and see firsthand Hartmann's painting of The Great Gate of Kiev and to stand in front of the actual gate. It would be for me like standing before the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. However, two things have stopped me. Czar Alexander II decided, after naming Hartmann's painting the winner, not to build the gate for some reason. The other issue is that Czar Vladimir Putin is attempting to reconstruct the old USSR by attempting to bring Ukraine back under the old Soviet control.
One would think that Putin would have understand better than I not to go on his fool's errand. Someone needs to call Czar Putin aside and whisper to him about his fool's errand.
However, Czar Putin is working hard at reabsorbing Ukraine back under control of Russia. Nonetheless, Putin has seen how countries like Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Uzbekistan have all left what once was the USSR. Czar Putin is facing what the British Empire faced losing most of a quarter of the world's landmass a century ago.
This is the Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
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