Pictures At An Exhibition
Bridget Mermikides arranges this powerful piece, once a cornerstone of prog-pomp as performed by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
To make the arrangement work well for solo guitar I’ve transposed the original key from B flat down to a.
Pictures At An exhibition was composed in 1874, soon after the tragic death of Modest Mussorgsky’s friend, the artist and architect, Viktor Hartmann with whom the composer shared a russian nationalistic artistic vision. A retrospective exhibition of Hartmann’s works (some of which were owned by Mussorsky) inspired the composer to write a piece which depicted the listener walking around a gallery and stopping to look at various paintings (many of which were actual Hartmann works). each painting is represented by a different musical movement and their moods are captured beautifully. However, the most famous is the opening and recurring theme, Promenade, representing the gallery visitor’s walk between the exhibits. it’s this section of the composition that i’ve arranged and transcribed for you here.
Promenade is a stunningly simple yet radical piece of music, characterised by an engaging melodic motif which is presented as a single line, and also harmonised with a surprising and satisfying chord sequence.
the piece is also interesting rhythmically, as it’s set at standard walking pace, and although it’s made up almost entirely of crotchets and quavers, involves a switching 5/4 to 6/4 meter. this asymmetric meter is unusual yet entirely accessible, as it presents the melody so naturally (for a similar example of this idea from the popular music genre check out the verse sections of the Beatles’ All You need is Love). Although a virtuosic solo piano piece, Pictures At An exhibition is perhaps better known by ravel’s gorgeous orchestral arrangement.
to make the arrangement work for solo guitar i’ve transposed the original key of Bb down to A (you can use a capo at the first fret if you want to replicate the original key).
the main technical challenge to overcome here is when switching from chord to chord. This needs to be executed fluently so as to maintain the melodic line - the music captions should help you navigate any particularly tricky sections. Wth that in mind you might want to practise the piece in sections; you’ll need to develop muscle memory for some of the more challenging chord changes, to play it with an appropriately relaxed fluency.
Keith Emerson at the helm of his ‘Mission Control’