Limoges – The Big News

Sadly, only a few of the sketches by Victor Hartmann that inspired Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition have survived. We must rely on the various editions and the voluminous scholarship regarding the titles and inscriptions that marked the movements of the suite. Apparently, movement 7 (Limoges) had originally included the inscription “French women quarreling in the market.” The music would seem to suggest the hustle and bustle of a busy market place with many simultaneous discussions. I’m not certain why Mussorgsky would have scratched this suggestion, other than the music speaks for itself.

This movement was relatively easy to orchestrate in that there are very few necessary compromises. There are no pitches which are outside the range of the brass family; though for practical reasons, I did make a few octave transpositions (one that I am reconsidering even as I draft this post). And, especially if you take into consideration that the original concept was for piano, it is all quite technically within reach despite all the “black notes and beams” on the page.

I made an early decision that low brass (except euphonium) would be tacet on this movement. This was only in part due to the overall tessitura of the entire movement. The other consideration was that the movement immediately following (and reached through a direct segue) is Catacombs and features the low brass almost exclusively. Again, there is nothing earth shattering about the decision; only that I chose to use instrumentation to underscore form and texture, and to create contrast.

Measures 2 & 3 (which reappear several times in this movement) are an example of choices I made to pass the work around with an apparent goal of making it easier for individual players. I say apparent because, that’s only part of the story. Of course, pulling this off will take some team play and careful rehearsal. You’ll see in the score below how I divided the right hand line in these measures for Trumpet 1, 2, and 3.

There were a few of objectives to breaking this passage into pieces: 1) unless a single player was to be assigned all of measure 2 – 4, the line was going to have to be broken up somehow; 2) the image in my head is several people gossiping and quarreling in the marketplace – breaking up the lines enhances this imagery; and 3) perpetual motion music like this cries out “musical machine” to me, with each individual voice doing its part to keep the machine working.

I like this approach and use it often. Here’s what it looks like orchestrated for brass in my version (available by clicking here):

The left hand could likely be covered by just 2 horns, but this a 40 minute work with lots of taxing work for the horns. In my own personal experience as a brass player, nothing tuckers me out quicker than chipping away at something for extended periods of time. Please note that when the color changes in measure 3 (partly out of range consideration), that rough edge is smoothed somewhat by the percussion entrance, which I also use to make hits on accented notes in the melody for color.

This is the piano part that presents the first range compromise:

The high g flat is possible on a piccolo trumpet and perhaps it is splitting hairs by making the piccolo enter on the second sixteenth note of this figure on the high e flat. I’m told by my trumpet playing friends in the Boulder Brass (and my own experience) that there is a difference in predictable outcomes. There is another reason though: this passage and others are built on the rhythmic novelty of ‘launching’ off the first sixteenth note – that is to say a 3 sixteenth note downward step-wise figure preceded by a leap of some larger interval from the first sixteenth of the set.

With the sfz quarter notes beginning on beat one of this passage, I felt justified in omitting that first pitch for practical and musical reasons. The first 3 bars of this excerpt look like this in my brass score:

Note the first entrance of the euphonium and how that material combined with e flat trumpet and piccolo in measure 2 & 3 create an amalgamated musical thought.

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