“The Old Castle” by Mussorgsky in the Context of Analogies and Parallels

Evgeny B. Trembovelsky


In examining Mussorgsky’s piece “The Old Castle” from the suite “Pictures at an Exhibition”, the article draws parallels with various phenomena of world art (mainly, the art of music). Following the logic of intertextual approaches, they expand the scale of the content-related characteristics and elucidate the stylistic foundations. The genuinely national nature of the cycle of “Pictures at an Exhibition” is most evidently embodied in the outer sections of the piece in view of the links with Russian folk songs, Znamenny chant and horn-call compositions from the early 19th century. Its inherent idea – the embodiment, in Dostoevsky’s words, of the universal responsiveness of the Russian soul – is clearly manifested in the depictions from the life of other peoples and cultures. Among the realized analogies with the piece “The Old Castle”, some may seem obvious, others – unexpected. There is the Sicilienne genre, familiar to Russian composers from the 18th century, Wagner’s Tristan chord progression, the “cherishing soul of humanity” (according to Vissarion Belinsky), the theme of unrequited love, recalled from remotely ancient times, one of the novels of Akutagawa, the traditions of the troubadours and Meistersingers of combining through composition and a system of repeats, the principle of converging to sameness, familiar from Schubert’s work, the bar form, the Mugham, the Küy and other Asian musical styles. All of this, of course, is unlikely to arise in a complex manner in the direct perception of Mussorgsky’s music. But does not the possibility itself of providing so many analogies testify of the rare breadth of his ideas about the world and art? All of this may be evaluated, obviously, from his letters and memoirs, but mainly in the effectiveness of the artistic endeavours, which were
apparently carried out spontaneously and intuitively. And is not one of the sources of intertextual, polystylistic and
collage-technique inspirations of composers of subsequent generations hidden here?

Keywords: Mussorgsky, “The Old Castle,” parallels in art, Richard Wagner, Franz Schubert, Mugham.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17674/1997-0854.2017.4.128-135


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