Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Pictures at an Exhibition

Pictures at an Exhibition

Anna Harwell Celenza
Illustrator:  Joann E. Kitchel 
Nonfiction book and music CD
For ages 5 to 10
Charlesbridge Publishing, 2003   ISBN: 978-1570914928

Modest Mussorgsky, the musician and composer is feeling desperately unhappy. One of his dearest friends, Victor, who was an artist, has died suddenly and Modest feel that he should have done something to help him. Modest is thrown into the depths of despair and his friends are worried about him. Then one of Modest’s friends decides to exhibit poor Victor’s art and Modest comes up with the idea of writing a series of pieces of music which describe the paintings in musical terms. Surely such a collection would make a fitting tribute to his lost friend.

So Modest sat at his piano and composed. He came up with pieces which described ten of the paintings and he also composed music which described the movement of a person going from picture to picture. Perhaps this was himself looking at the canvasses and remembering the life of his friend Victor.

By writing this book Anne Harwell Celenza shows us that music can be a wonderful tribute to someone who has died. It can describe art, personalities, and stories. It can also help the person who composes it to heal and to move on after some great loss. Because of Modest’s music people all over the world know about Victor’s artwork even though very few of his pictures can still be seen.

The music CD which comes with the book includes the piano version of “Pictures at an Exhibition” and also an orchestrated version written by Maurice Ravel. It is this latter version which most people are familiar with.