Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2007

Capstone Advisor

James Tapia

Honors Reader

Amanda Winkler

Capstone Major


Capstone College

Visual and Performing Arts

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories


Subject Categories

Music | Music Performance


A piece of music is so much more than notes on a page. It embodies the historical context in which it was written, the feelings or events which inspired the composer to write it, the message the composer wishes to convey, the way a performer chooses to interpret it, and the impact it has on the audience. Since we know that different performances of one particular piece are often compared to each other as being higher or lower in technical and musical quality, it is clear that not every performance is the same, and that the differences that exist can affect the audience’s reception of the piece. This paper compares three performances of one piece of music, Pictures at an Exhibition, originally composed for piano by Modeste Mussorgsky and later orchestrated by Maurice Ravel. I compare performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a highly respected ensemble; the Syracuse University Symphony Orchestra, of which I was a part; and Vladimir Horowitz, a concert pianist. Based on background information about Mussorgsky and events which had occurred in his life previous to the composition of Pictures at an Exhibition, I developed my own interpretation of the piece as not only the musical depiction of pictures viewed at an exhibition but also as an emotional journey of Mussorgsky himself. I then closely analyzed the three performances and determined certain decisions made by different performers to be either positive or negative with respect to my interpretation of the meaning of the work as a whole. While I do not suggest that my own reading of Pictures at an Exhibition is the only “correct” interpretation, it is important for a performer to be aware of the fact that even slight differences in aspects of performance such as dynamics, articulation, and phrasing can affect the message that a piece sends to a listener. The message which Mussorgsky wished to send through Pictures at an Exhibition is suggested by a hand-written note in the movement “Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua” in his original manuscript, but can also be inferred based on our

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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