Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
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1839-03-21
https://musicbrainz.org/artist/c1380b12-3909-47d8-a5fd-d20e76123310
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky

Biography

Born into a prosperous land-owning family on a country estate 300 miles south of St Petersburg, Modest Musorgsky first appeared on the Russian musical scene as an elegant 17-year-old army offcer with a dilettantish interest in the arts. A year ...

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Biography

Born into a prosperous land-owning family on a country estate 300 miles south of St Petersburg, Modest Musorgsky first appeared on the Russian musical scene as an elegant 17-year-old army offcer with a dilettantish interest in the arts. A year later, in 1857, he was taken under the wing of Mily Balakirev, an ardent proponent of a genuinely Russian art as well as a fanatical admirer of Berlioz and Liszt. Like the other composers who joined Balakirev’s circle and became known collectively as ‘The Mighty Handful’ (moguchaya kuchka) – Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and César Cui – Musorgsky gained from the master’s enthusiasms yet missed out on a systematic training in harmony and counterpoint, a defciency which his idiosyncratic genius turned to good use but which was always to be held against him.

Musorgsky’s early works, written under Balakirev’s influence, already show a striking ability to give a visual image a strong musical form: the Intermezzo in modo classico for piano of 1862, later orchestrated, was inspired by a winter scene with a group of peasants plunging and tumbling through snow drifts. Yet it was not until he came in contact with other artists from non-musical spheres that Musorgsky began to focus his thoughts upon creating ‘an independent Russian product, free from German profundity and routine … grown on our country’s soil and nurtured on Russian bread’. He regarded his 1866–7 tone-poem A Night on the Bare Mountain as exactly that, although both Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov found it too unorthodox.

Even more significant was Musorgsky’s determination to render an artistic reproduction of Russian speech and intonation. It began with a highly original sequence of songs, progressed with his unfinished attempt to set every word of Gogol’s play The Marriage as an opera and reached its high water mark in the original 1868–9 version of Boris Godunov; a thorough revision of Boris in 1871–2 inclined more to conventional modes of operatic song and aria, making it more acceptable for presentation on the Imperial Russian stage.

With the successful premiere of Boris Godunov in 1874, Musorgsky’s future might have seemed assured. Yet the heavy drinking that dated back to his army days, severe bouts of depression and an impoverished lifestyle following the loss of the family fortunes with the emancipation of the serfs militated against a steady output.

His highly original piano tribute to an architect friend who died in 1873, Pictures at an Exhibition, was a masterpiece unacknowledged in his lifetime. He also took his individual art of song-writing to new heights with the cycles Sunless (1874) and Songs and Dances of Death (1875–7); but his operatic ambitions were compromised by a desire to relax with another Gogol comedy, Sorochintsy Fair (1874–80), alongside work on another ‘national music drama’, Khovanshchina (1872–80). Neither was completed by the time of a fatal stroke in February 1881.

Just before his death Ilya Repin painted the tragic image that we always associate with Musorgsky; the works, whether in their incomparably vivid original form or in the well-meaning revisions by Rimsky-Korsakov and others, tell a different story.

Profile © David Nice

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky Audio & Video


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Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Pictures from an Exhibition: The great gate of Kiev
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Pictures from an Exhibition: The great gate of Kiev
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Khovanshchina - Prelude to Act 1 (Dawn on the Moscow River)
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Khovanshchina - Prelude to Act 1 (Dawn on the Moscow River)
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
The Nursery: Cat and the Bird Cage
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The Nursery: Cat and the Bird Cage
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
The Nursery Hobby-Horse
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The Nursery Hobby-Horse
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
The Nursery: In The Corner
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The Nursery: In The Corner
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
The Nursery: With Nanny
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The Nursery: With Nanny
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Boris Godunov: Farewell, my son
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Boris Godunov: Farewell, my son
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Children's Scherzo
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Children's Scherzo
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Duma [Reverie] (on a theme of V.A. Loginov) for piano
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Duma [Reverie] (on a theme of V.A. Loginov) for piano
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
The Old Castle (Pictures at an Exhibition)
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The Old Castle (Pictures at an Exhibition)
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Gopak from 'Sorochinskaya yarmarka' orch. Lyadov
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Gopak from 'Sorochinskaya yarmarka' orch. Lyadov
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Boris Godunov - Act 2
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Boris Godunov - Act 2
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
The Gnome (Pictures at an Exhibition)
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The Gnome (Pictures at an Exhibition)
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Pictures from an exhibition, orch. Ravel
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Pictures from an exhibition, orch. Ravel
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Pictures at an Exhibition (orig for piano orch Ravel)
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Pictures at an Exhibition (orig for piano orch Ravel)
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Pictures at an Exhibition, Promenade
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Pictures at an Exhibition, Promenade
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Hebrew Song
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Hebrew Song
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Gathering Mushrooms
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Gathering Mushrooms
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Where Are You, Little Star?
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Where Are You, Little Star?
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Night
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Night
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Pictures from an Exhibition
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Pictures from an Exhibition
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Prelude and Dance of the Persian Slaves from Khovanschina
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Prelude and Dance of the Persian Slaves from Khovanschina
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Pictures From An Exhibition: The Gnome
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Pictures From An Exhibition: The Gnome
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
The Promenade from Pictures at an Exhibition
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The Promenade from Pictures at an Exhibition
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Dance of the Persian Slaves - from the Opera Khovanshchina (Act IV, Scene 1)
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Dance of the Persian Slaves - from the Opera Khovanshchina (Act IV, Scene 1)
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Pictures From An Exhibition For Piano - (excerpt)
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Pictures From An Exhibition For Piano - (excerpt)
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Pictures at an Exhibition
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Pictures at an Exhibition
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Boris Godunov: Lament of the Simpleton and finale of Act 3 scene 1
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Boris Godunov: Lament of the Simpleton and finale of Act 3 scene 1
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Pictures from an exhibition for piano; Ballet of the unhatched chicks
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Pictures from an exhibition for piano; Ballet of the unhatched chicks
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Pictures at an Exhibition
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Pictures at an Exhibition
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
A Night On the Bare Mountain
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A Night On the Bare Mountain
Фёдор Шаляпин
Death of Boris, Boris Godunov
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Death of Boris, Boris Godunov
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
A Night on the Bare Mountain (original version) - excerpt (Proms 2015)
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A Night on the Bare Mountain (original version) - excerpt (Proms 2015)
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Khovanshchina: Act IV - Dance of the Persian Slaves
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Khovanshchina: Act IV - Dance of the Persian Slaves
Add music you love and enjoy it
Playlists featuring Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
Essential Classics: Guest Choices
Essential Classics: Guest Choices
Music With 'The Tingle Factor'
Music With 'The Tingle Factor'
The Story of Music in 50 Pieces
The Story of Music in 50 Pieces


Biography

Born into a prosperous land-owning family on a country estate 300 miles south of St Petersburg, Modest Musorgsky first appeared on the Russian musical scene as an elegant 17-year-old army offcer with a dilettantish interest in the arts. A year later, in 1857, he was taken under the wing of Mily Balakirev, an ardent proponent of a genuinely Russian art as well as a fanatical admirer of Berlioz and Liszt. Like the other composers who joined Balakirev’s circle and became known collectively as ‘The Mighty Handful’ (moguchaya kuchka) – Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and César Cui – Musorgsky gained from the master’s enthusiasms yet missed out on a systematic training in harmony and counterpoint, a defciency which his idiosyncratic genius turned to good use but which was always to be held against him.

Musorgsky’s early works, written under Balakirev’s influence, already show a striking ability to give a visual image a strong musical form: the Intermezzo in modo classico for piano of 1862, later orchestrated, was inspired by a winter scene with a group of peasants plunging and tumbling through snow drifts. Yet it was not until he came in contact with other artists from non-musical spheres that Musorgsky began to focus his thoughts upon creating ‘an independent Russian product, free from German profundity and routine … grown on our country’s soil and nurtured on Russian bread’. He regarded his 1866–7 tone-poem A Night on the Bare Mountain as exactly that, although both Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov found it too unorthodox.

Even more significant was Musorgsky’s determination to render an artistic reproduction of Russian speech and intonation. It began with a highly original sequence of songs, progressed with his unfinished attempt to set every word of Gogol’s play The Marriage as an opera and reached its high water mark in the original 1868–9 version of Boris Godunov; a thorough revision of Boris in 1871–2 inclined more to conventional modes of operatic song and aria, making it more acceptable for presentation on the Imperial Russian stage.

With the successful premiere of Boris Godunov in 1874, Musorgsky’s future might have seemed assured. Yet the heavy drinking that dated back to his army days, severe bouts of depression and an impoverished lifestyle following the loss of the family fortunes with the emancipation of the serfs militated against a steady output.

His highly original piano tribute to an architect friend who died in 1873, Pictures at an Exhibition, was a masterpiece unacknowledged in his lifetime. He also took his individual art of song-writing to new heights with the cycles Sunless (1874) and Songs and Dances of Death (1875–7); but his operatic ambitions were compromised by a desire to relax with another Gogol comedy, Sorochintsy Fair (1874–80), alongside work on another ‘national music drama’, Khovanshchina (1872–80). Neither was completed by the time of a fatal stroke in February 1881.

Just before his death Ilya Repin painted the tragic image that we always associate with Musorgsky; the works, whether in their incomparably vivid original form or in the well-meaning revisions by Rimsky-Korsakov and others, tell a different story.

Profile © David Nice

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