Baba Yaga (from Pictures at an Exhibition, arranged for piano) - Modest Mussorgsky

.Baba Yaga, from Pictures at an Exhibition, showcases Modest Mussorgsky's exceptional talent in painting vivid, musical pictures. Originally composed for piano, this piece forms part of an artistic synthesis that takes listeners on an auditory gallery walk. Through Mussorgsky's imaginative perspective, the piano transcends its traditional boundaries, embodying the gait and ferocity of the legendary witch, Baba Yaga. This composition not only highlights Mussorgsky's innovative use of musical storytelling but also stands as a testament to his deep cultural and mythical awareness.

The Historical Backdrop of .Baba Yaga

The solo piano piece .Baba Yaga finds its origins in Modest Mussorgsky's larger work, Pictures at an Exhibition. Composed in 1874, this suite was inspired by an art exhibition dedicated to Mussorgsky’s late friend, Viktor Hartmann. Each movement represents Mussorgsky’s reflections on an artwork. Specifically, .Baba Yaga is inspired by a sketch that depicts the hut of Baba Yaga, a figure deeply rooted in Slavic folklore, standing on chicken legs. Mussorgsky's composition brings this eerie imagery to life through music, making .Baba Yaga a captivating exploration of Russian myths.

The initial release of Pictures at an Exhibition was posthumous, with the suite gaining popularity only after Maurice Ravel's orchestration. However, the piano version, especially the .Baba Yaga movement, remains a favorite among pianists, celebrated for its raw and unfiltered depiction of Mussorgsky’s vision.

Complexity in Composition

The composition of .Baba Yaga is a fascinating study in orchestration and harmony, tailored for the solo piano. Mussorgsky employs a mix of scales and modes to invoke the supernatural and erratic nature of the witch Baba Yaga. The piece is famous for its use of the octatonic scale, which contributes to its eerie, unsettled atmosphere.

Rhythmic complexity is another defining characteristic of .Baba Yaga. Mussorgsky utilizes irregular rhythms to mimic the unpredictable motion of Baba Yaga’s flying mortar and pestle. The intricate interplay between the hands mimics the witch’s presumed dialogue, with the left-hand patterns providing a relentless, driving force that propels the piece forward.

Harmonically, .Baba Yaga does not adhere strictly to traditional structures. Instead, Mussorgsky exploits dissonance and chromaticism to paint a chilling sonic landscape. This harmonic freedom enhances the narrative quality of the piece, allowing listeners to navigate the tumultuous encounter with Baba Yaga through music.

Enduring Popularity of .Baba Yaga

The enduring popularity of .Baba Yaga can be attributed to its narrative depth and technical challenge. As a musical portrayal of folklore, it resonates with listeners' fascination with myth and legend. Moreover, the piece tests the mettle of pianists, demanding both technical prowess and interpretive sensitivity.

Mussorgsky’s .Baba Yaga has inspired numerous arrangements and performances, further cementing its place in the classical music canon. Its inclusion in the revered Pictures at an Exhibition suite ensures its continued relevance and engagement with audiences worldwide. The piece's ability to conjure vivid imagery through music alone speaks to Mussorgsky's genius and the timeless appeal of storytelling through art.


.Baba Yaga stands as a monumental work in Mussorgsky's oeuvre and the solo piano repertoire. Its fusion of narrative brilliance and commanding musicality continues to captivate audiences and inspire performers. As an exploration of folklore through the lens of classical music, it remains an unmatched auditory experience, demonstrating the power of music to transcend the ordinary and venture into realms of the extraordinary.

Publication date: 06. 03. 2024