In 1874, Modest Mussorgski wrote his piano cycle „ Pictures at an exhibition” inspired by another exhibition from drawings and stage design drafts by his friend who passed away, Viktor Hartmann. Through this exhibition, we go on a musical journey where Mussorgski’s composition bring his emotions and feelings that these pictures had awakened in him, to life.
Melodies such as “Promenade”, “Ballet of Unhatched Chicks” or “Bydlo” the oxcart, are well-known worldwide and have been musically rearranged many times. However, almost all of Hartmann’s original pictures have gone missing and only continue to live through Mussorgski’s music.
In her staging of visual theatre, Karin Schäfer reversed the original process of creation, just like the composer once made music from pictures, she developed new music from the resonance and the tonal stories told by the individual pieces of music, both the original, lost and forgotten “pictures”.
This is a very special show, as it is brought to life through music, the pictures tell you their own stories with unique puppets, light, shadows, projections and movements in their own humorous yet surprising way.
14 artists with different styles of works stood as godparents for each individual “living picture” in Karin Schäfer’s projects, over-lapping many genres:
Alberto Giacometti, Niki de Saint Phalle, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, David Hockney, Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Georgia O’Keefe, Joan Miro, Martin Kippenberger, Christo und Jeanne Claude .
Therefore, the "pictures at an exhibition" used as a musical reference to a single artist becomes a multi-layered comprehensive interpretation of the twentieth century, in a captivating relationship between music, visual art and visual theatre.
All videos, projections and animation films also originated in the Karin Schäfer Puppet Theatre workshop. The production can be shown live with any orchestra, pianist and likewise with other ensembles who have this work in their repertoire.
“The newly developed pictures in this staging are my own free thoughts and ideas that came to me whilst listening to the music. I’ve been occupying myself very deeply with visual art for years, which has influenced me very strongly in my creative work with my puppets. The transition from visual art to visual theatre is easy for me and actually plays a main role in this piece.
In doing so, the music, as I heard and felt it, connected me with a number of artists from the 20th century, the individual or even multiple works of these artists, have a direct connection for me to the respective music pieces which reflect their resonance.
I would like to break and exceed the boundaries between music and image and also between what’s shown and the audience. The room becomes the stage, every image has a different place, just like in a museum. However, the visitors move in a museum, here, the images move, sometimes even right in the middle of the audience. Each moving in a different theatrical artistic style and different techniques."
The Promenade presents a stroll through the exhibition, two large figures based on the sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle and Alberto Giacometti, one small and colourful, the other one elongated in furry metal grey, both of them moving in astonishment and curiosity between the pictures, the auditorium and then discovering the exhibition.
The gnome lives in the picture “The Tyranny of Architecture-The Road to Socialism” by the famous Viennese painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser. However, this unexpected multidimensional place brings him significant problems, especially the perspective that threatens him.
The old castle scene was developed from the painting “Sitting in the Zen Garden” by David Hockney. A detail of photography was put together as a kind of collage to form a picture of the castle in Hockney’s style. This can be found in a giant hourglass, and with its continual ripple this accompanies the slow, almost melancholic music, to represent time passing away and decay.
The Tuileries garden in Paris, is based on Wassily Kandinsky's picture "Little Pleasures". Cheerful, colourful exuberance, small, abstract elements and strange shapes move around in an undefined refined room. They create optical confusion and yet are a symbol of joy.
Marc Chagall’s “The Violinist” and other elements from his pictures form the background for Bydlo. The oxcart moves through the dark vast land of Russia to slow and heavy music, where the houses, huts, people and animals have strange relationships with each other.
In the Ballet of Unhatched Chicks after Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans”, the egg shells become soup cans in the style of his coloured area pictures. The chicks represent absolute chaos in a short stop-motion-animation film: they strive for order and unity, they are small, clumsy, and birdy-like the music.
Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle are reminded of two paintings by Pablo Picasso: “Wilhelm Uhde” (1910) and “Nude Man and Woman” (1971) that extensively envelop Picasso’s work. Tension and conflict dominates in a fight between the rich and the poor man in the form of two life-sized hand puppets, however it speaks for itself that the rich man always has the last word.
Limoges, the Market is based on the painting “Twittering Maschine” by Paul Klee, that was actually built three dimensionally and functionally. Mussorgski’s women ramble in a marketplace and thus become opposing, chirping, bird-like beings, growing more and more bird-like to the cranky, swelling of the music.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting “New York Night” formed the basis for the catacombs. A picture made of black plains, combined with countless lights presents the new age of the catacombs: The big city, the skyscraper’s lit windows, cars in between, street lamps, traffic lights, bit by bit the lights go out, until everything is completely dark, the city sleeps, and the human dies.
Cum mortuis in lingua mortua is featured by Joan Miró’s painting “Bathing Woman”- here the music expresses time difference, a standing still in movement, like holding one’s breathe under water. The water is projected using a huge projection in the auditorium and stage room and using colourful shadows the “language of silence” is spoken.
The Hut on Hen's Legs (Baba Yaga) is based on Martin Kippenberger’s work, equipped with his favourite motives, lanterns and boxes. The pictures is an instalment of art: a box being the house and using lanterns as the legs, it moves around in a menacing way through the whole stage room until the witch Baba Yaga herself appears.
The Bogatyr Gates in the Capital in Kiev is based on Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works. The music is developed upon the motives of the Promenade, although the walk is a triumph march to a lofty hymn of victory, the suffering is unmasked: with concealed actions, there is room for new perspectives, this is how both the piano and the pianist, with the last bars, end the piece with an astonishing alienation for the audience.
For the encore we present Stravinsky’s “Circus Polka: For a young elephant” with big lanterns, which take different shapes and forms during this wonderful light hearted piece of music. In the end, they get together and actually bring a foolish, young elephant onto the stage.
The piece was seen at the Viennese Concert House, in the Museum of Modern Art in Salzburg, Philharmonic Luxemburg and in the Metropolitan Hall in Taipeh, with Christopher Hinterhuber performing on piano. In collaboration with other pianists, the piece was shown in the Concert House Thessaloniki, in Gasteig Munich and in the main city of European culture, Wroclaw.
In Ravel’s orchestra version, the play was performed together with the Youth Symphony Orchestra Voralberg, the Izmir State Symphony Orchestra, the Beethoven Orchestra in the Bonner Opera and the Orchestra of Castilla y Leon.