87. Modest Mussorgsky [365 Composers for 2013]


28th March – Modest Mussorgsky

Mussorgsky (21st March 1839 – 28th March 1881) is our composer for 28th March, to mark the day of his birth.
Nationality: Russian
Lifespan: 42 years
Genre: Nationalism
Education: Peterschule, St. Petersburg
Fame Ranking: 1

Modest Mussorgsky can trace his family lineage back hundreds of years, and is thought to be related to Rurik, a 9th century chieftain who was the founder of Russia. He had a musical education from an early age, but in his early teens he was sent to the Cadet School of the Guards in St. Petersburg, as was traditional in his family. He had an active musical life, although he was not a professional musician – he served in the army and later worked in administration in the civil service.

As a young man he met fellow Russian composer Balakirev, who had a profound effect on his life. Balakirev taught Mussorgsky about musical form, and inspired Mussorgsky to begin composing. Since he was not a formally trained musician, Mussorgsky’s works were criticised heavily by some for containing badly orchestrated sections. Many of his works were re-arranged by other composers in an attempt to iron out some inconsistencies. Balakirev, Mussorgsky and three others (Borodin, Cui and Rimsky-Korsakov) banded together to share Nationalistic ideas about music – they were collectively known as “The Five”. Their music focused on depicting real Russian life, using folk melodies and flexible structures rather than confining themselves to the strict “sonata form” type ideals.

Mussorgsky’s most famous works are “Night on a Bald (or Bare) Mountain”, “Pictures at an Exhibition” (both eventually arranged as orchestral works) and Boris Godunov, which is the most-recorded Russian opera.

Mussorgsky died aged just 42 after suffering from alcoholism since he was an army cadet. The exact cause of his death is unknown, but he suffered a series of seizures shortly beforehand, most likely connected with his alcohol problem.

Here is Mussorgsky’s “Night on a Bald Mountain”, arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov:


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