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Pictures at an Exhibition is a suite of 12 pieces for piano, composed in 1874 by Mussorgsky as a musical commentary on a posthumous exhibition of paintings and designs by his friend, the architect Viktor Hartmann. Several of the original paintings still exist, and can be found easily on the internet. Mussorgsky’s music has been transcribed for orchestra by several composers, most notably Ravel. This arrangement for clarinet quartet of a selection of the pictures seeks to maintain variety of tone colour by using differently-sized members of the clarinet family in each movement. The standard line-up of the quartet is for two Bb clarinets, Eb alto and Bb bass, but the Eb sopranino and the Eb contra-alto instruments make appearances, and one movement is for sopranino clarinet in D, with three A clarinets (although this could be performed on Eb and three Bb instruments, if a D clarinet is not available).
The title Cum mortuis in lingua mortua ('with the dead, in a dead language') is an allusion to the Latin inscriptions on the tombs that are the subject of the previous movement, Catacombs. Mussorgsky re-works the musical material from the opening Promenade, but with various ghostly tremolando effects and eerie chromaticism.
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