Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Baritone Saxophones (1 player) and Piano

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  • Commissioned by/written for
    Kenneth Tse
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  • Year revised
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Modest Mussorgsky wrote his ubiquitous work, Pictures at an Exhibition, in 1874 in tribute to his recently-deceased friend, Viktor Hartmann, an architect and artist in the circle of the musicians and artists who comprised the group surrounding Vladimir Stasov in Russia in the latter third of the 19th century. Although Mussorgsky's masterpiece was slow to catch on, today it ranks as arguably the most popular piece of classical music ever composed. It is almost certainly the most-arranged and recorded of any classical work, there being more than 660 arrangements of the work for almost every conceivable (as well as some inconceivable) combi- nation of instruments, and in excess of 2000 recordings of those arrangements. One of my many interests is Mussorgsky's seminal work, and I have attempted to collect every arrangement and recording in existence. It was therefore inevitable that I would eventually prepare my own arrangement, and the impetus for doing my first one (others are planned) came from Kenneth Tse, who not only knew of my interest in the work, but added his own enthusiasm to the project, as an admirer of Mussorgsky and his most famous creation. I am, of course, hardly the first person to prepare a reworking of Pictures for saxophone(s). Preceding this arrangement are versions for alto sax & harp (by Paul Brodie); alto sax & organ; alto sax & piano (including one by Larry Teal); alto sax, flute, guitar & organ; baritone sax & piano; soprano sax & piano; tenor sax & piano; saxophone quartet (by several arrangers, including Johan van der Linden); saxophone quintet; saxophone choir (the version by William Schmidt probably being the best-known); soprano sax & orchestra, and even a version by Jun Nagao which, like the present one, is for the four major saxes (one player) and piano. Not all of these treat the entire 16-movement suite, but in some cases only a movement or two. This is especially true of the most famous (by far) arrangement employing saxophone which is found in the Ravel orchestration, in the work's fourth movement, "Il vecchio Castello." Where my version is different from many of the above treatments is the fact that I have sought to truly arrange the work rather than merely transcribe it. Thus in "Il vecchio Castello," for instance, one will hear figuration in the sax part that is nowhere to be found in the Mussorgsky original. Were I to have simply transcribed this movement, it would have been identical to several other versions already done by other hands. I have felt license to take a freer approach, because Mussorgsky--after all--did not conceive of the work for saxophone (or for orchestra, for that matter), and doubtless would have written many parts more idiomatically for other instruments if they had been in his mind at the time he composed the piece. Thus, the I estimate that about 90% of this arrangement is Mussorgsky, and about 10% Canfield, and my fingerprints may well be heard in additional figuration in many of the movements, and even re-composition of the piano part in places (see the beginning of "Samuel Goldenberg," for instance). The nature of the work is also that of a showpiece, and I have drawn upon the fact of the virtuosity of the dedicatee to add brilliance wherever possible to the solo sax lines in whichever saxophone they are heard.

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