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Summary Article: Mussorgsky, Modest Petrovich from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Russian composer. He was a member of the group of five composers (‘The Five’). His opera masterpiece Boris Godunov (1869, revised 1871–72), touched a political nerve and employed realistic transcriptions of speech patterns. Many of his works, including Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) for piano, were ‘revised’ and orchestrated by others, including Rimsky-Korsakov, Ravel, and Shostakovich, and some have only recently been restored to their original harsh beauty.

Mussorgsky, born in Karevo (Pskov, Russia), resigned his commission in the army in 1858 to concentrate on music while working as a government clerk. He was influenced by both folk music and literature. Among his other works are the incomplete operas Khovanshchina and Sorochintsy Fair, the orchestral Night on the Bare Mountain (1867), and many songs. He died in poverty, from alcoholism.

The son of well-to-do landowners, Mussorgsky was sent to St Petersburg at the age of ten to prepare for a military school, which he entered in 1852. He joined a regiment in 1856 and he did not seriously think of a music career until he met the composers Dargomizhsky and Balakirev in 1857 and began to study under the latter. He resigned his commission in 1858, but never studied systematically. His family's fortune waned after the liberation of the serfs in 1861, but he was in sympathy with that movement and content to live on the small pay he obtained for a position in the civil service. He finished Boris Godunov in its first form in 1869, but it was rejected by the Imperial Opera and he recast it 1871–72, this second version being produced in 1874. It gained wide popularity in an orchestration by Rimsky-Korsakov, but Mussorgsky's original is now more often preferred. He sank into ever more acute poverty and ruined his health with drink, but between 1872 and 1880 managed to complete most of his historical opera, Khovanshchina.

WorksOperaSalammbô (after Flaubert, unfinished, 1863–66), The Marriage (Gogol, unfinished, 1868, produced 1909), Boris Godunov (after Pushkin, 1869, revised 1872), Khovanshchina (1886), Sorochintsy Fair (after Gogol, unfinished, 1874–80); an act for a collective opera, Mlada (with Borodin, Cui, and Rimsky-Korsakov, afterwards used for other works).

OrchestralNight on the Bare Mountain for orchestra (later used in Mlada [with chorus] and further revised) and three small orchestral pieces; suite Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) and 12 small pieces for piano.

Other four Russian folk songs for male chorus; over 60 songs including cycles The Nursery (1870), Sunless, and Songs and Dances of Death (1875–77).

audios

Mussorgsky, Modest Pictures at an Exhibition, ‘Promenade’

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