MODEST MUSORGSKY  1839-1881

РинатК. Мусоргский а5а.jpg

Modest Petrovitch Mussorgsky (18391881)  was a Russian composer, a musical innovator of the XIX century, member of the “Mighty Handful”.

Under 10 years of age, Modest got a home education. He moved to Petersburg and entered a German school called Petrischule in 1849. In 1852, he entered  the Cadet School of the Guards and served for a short period at the guards’ Preobrazhensky regiment.  He met A. Dargomyzhsky that time. Then he served at the Chief Engineering Board at the Ministry of State Properties and Governmental Control.

Mussorgsky’s music contains Russian national features. This specific feature of his style manifested itself in various ways: in skillful arrangements of native songs and church music, in melody, harmony, rhythmics, forms and development of plots.  The following songs by Mussorgsky are very picturesque: the Callistratus, the Yeryomushka’s Lullaby (based on a poem by N. Nekrasov), the Sleep, Son of Peasants (based on a poem by Ostrovsky) and many others. Very popular are the Children’s vocal pieces (where he reveals a child’s world with love and profoundness) and the Songs and Dances of Death (1875-1877).

"Portrait of Modest Musorgsky"

Author Rinat Kuramshin

The large-scale major works by Mussorgsky belong to the operatic art. The Boris Godunov (based on a drama by A. Pushkin) is one of the best operas in the world theatrical music. Mussorgsky’s instrumentation, dramaturgy, composition and the entire style went outside the framework of the musical esthetics that was reigning at that time. This is the reason for such a harsh criticism of the Boris Godunov. The critics took innovative dramaturgy for a “defected libretto” and saw “much roughness and many flaws” in the music. Mussorgsky’s music became acknowledged in Russia and around the world only after his death.

The composer’s colleagues were even more sceptic about the Khovanschina opera.  The plot and idea of this opera are unusual. Compared to the Boris Godunov, the  Khovanschina is not just a drama dedicated to a historical person but it is already kind of an impersonal drama without a vivid central character, revealing whole strata of the national life, and raising the problem of a spiritual tragedy of the whole nation.

Mussorgsky composed a few pieces for orchestra: Night on Bald Mountain, the Intermezzo and the Capture of Kars march (1880). Mussorgsky composed a great cycle for piano – it is the Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) which was a musical illustration of V. Hartmann’s water-colors.

M. Mussorgsky

17 years

Opera M. Mussorgsky "Boris Godunov"

Photo.

M. Mussorgsky

Opera M.P. Mussorgsky

"Boris Godunov"

Mussorgsky’s music was brought to the big stage by N. Rimsky-Korsakov who brought to order the heritage of his late friend. In spite of Rimsky-Korsakov’s editorial voluntarism  ( “from the best motives” did he correct the harmony, rhythms and forms of the original), historians assume that it was Rimsky-Korsakov who made Mussorgsky’s music understood as a finished and well-composed music. They acquired an international acknowledgment due to respect from Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Dyaghilev who was the first to stage the operas abroad at the beginning of the XX century in his Ballets Russes.

In the 1870’s, Mussorgsky was too worried about disintegrating of the Mighty Handful. Mussorgsky was especially bitter about this because he understood this tendency as a succession to musical conformism and a betrayal of the Russian idea.

He also suffered from lack of understanding of his work in the official academic media. But most painful was the fact that his close friends did not accept his innovations – i.e. Balakirev, Cui and Rimsky-Korsakov. These sufferings from being misunderstood and unacknowledged caused a “nervous fever”. Mussorgsky died in the Nikolaevsky military hospital in Petersburg. A few days before death, I. Repin painted his portrait which was the only portrait made during the composer’s life. 

Nowadays, Mussorgsky’s music pieces are acknowledged masterpieces of the world musical art which greatly influenced other composers. “To create a living man” – this was the purpose Mussorgsky had set for himself.