Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks

Viktor Hartmann’s sketch of unhatched canary chicks for a ballet called Trilby or The Demon of the Heath made its way, in musical form, into Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (1874). While written originally for piano, I suspect many of us were introduced to the work through Ravel’s orchestration. From that perspective, listening to the original piano version offers several orders of revelation.

It was fascinating, in David Nice’s Russian music class #6, to get insights into the work and what it takes to perform it from both David and pianist Samson Tsoy. Here is Tsoy, in a segment that includes the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks.

Sergei Prokofiev is one of many who have performed Pictures at an Exhibition. David noted that, at one time, Prokofiev and his wife Lina possessed their own incubator and hatched chicks. Listen as Prokofiev brings his up close and personal knowledge to bear on this performance:

For an entirely different musical rendering of unhatched chicks, here’s a performance in Ravel’s orchestration:

Last, not least, here’s Sviatoslav Richter performing the whole of  Pictures at an Exhibition in London, 1968:



8 thoughts on “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks

  1. shoreacres

    When I followed the Hartmann link, I browsed the other images, and I must say: in the portrait of Mussorgsky in 1874, he has the look of a man who might imagine a ballet of unhatched chicks. On the other hand, the music sounds rather as if the chicks had managed to finish their hatching!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      He had quite a quirky imagination, it seems. And agree, when listening, what I hear is the chicks busting through their shells, which, actually, the Hartmann drawing shows in process.

  2. David Nice

    Bravissima for unearthing all those clips. I didn’t realise Samson had Musorgsky among his films. Isn’t he a wonderful human being? And so eloquent in English, although of course he and Pavel have been Londoners for some years now.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      I was particularly delighted to find the clip of Samson Tsoy–and agree, he is as delightful as he is knowledgeable. Thanks so much for introducing him to us!

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