Born: Mar 21, 1839; Russia
Died: Mar 28, 1881; Russia
His musical education was erratic, he toiled as a civil servant and wrote music only part-time, influenced few if any of his contemporaries, died early from alcoholism, and left a small body of work. Yet Modest Mussorgsky was a towering figure in nineteenth century Russian music. His works exhibit a daring, raw individuality, a unique sound that well-meaning associates tried to conventionalize and smooth over. He is best known for Night on BaldRead more Mountain (bowdlerized by Rimsky-Korsakov), Pictures at an Exhibition (a difficult piano suite orchestrated by Ravel), and the dark, declamatory opera Boris Godunov (polished by Rimsky-Korsakov) -- bastardized works all, yet each one full of arresting harmonies, disturbing colors, and grim celebrations of Russian nationalism.
Mussorgsky died in poverty, but he was born to a wealthy landowning family. Under his mother's tutelage, he developed a facility at the piano, but entered a cadet school in preparation for a military career. He joined a choir and discovered Russian church music, which would profoundly influence his later work.
Upon graduation in 1856, Mussorgsky entered the Russian Imperial Guard. That year he started to socialize with the composers Dargomizhsky and Cui, and through them Balakirev, with whom he began composition lessons. During this period he wrote small piano pieces and songs, and after an emotional crisis in 1858 resigned his commission with the intention of composing full-time. He began to go his own way as a composer in 1861, but was preoccupied helping to manage his family's estate. The decline in his family's fortunes led him to accept low-level civil service positions. He joined a commune with other intellectuals and became a proponent of musical Realism, applying the style to his songs. He had difficulty finishing works in larger formats, but his music circulated widely enough that by the late 1860s he was cast with Balakirev, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin as part of Russia's "Mighty Handful."
Mussorgsky toiled many years at his masterpiece, Boris Godunov, which reflected in music the inflections of Russian speech and met with great success in 1874. That year he also produced his innovative piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition. Yet his heavy drinking led to his dismissal from government service in 1880. Friends offered some financial help and Mussorgsky occasionally accompanied singers at the piano, but his finances and mental state quickly deteriorated. He died in 1881, leaving it to posterity to sort through and complete his unfinished works of unruly genius. Read less
Prologue, Scene 1: "Well then, what's wrong with you?"
Prologue, Scene 1: "Who are you adandoning us to"
Prologue, Scene 1: "Who are you adandoning us to"
Prologue, Scene 1: "True believers! The boyar is implacable."
Prologue, Scene 1: "Glory to Thee, Creator on high"
Prologue, Scene 1: "Did you hear what the holy pilgrims said?"
Prologue, Scene 2, Introduction
Prologue, Scene 2: "Long live Tsar Boris Fyodorovich!"
Prologue, Scene : "My soul is sad"
Prologue, Scene 2: "Glory!"
Act I, Scene 1, Introduction
Act I, Scene 1: "Just one final story"
Act I, Scene 1: "O Lord, strong and righteous"
Act I, Scene 1: "Do not complain, brother"
Act I, Scene 1: "For alLong time, honoured father"
Act I, Scene 1: "I arrived at night"
Act I, Scene 1: "How old was the murdered Tsarevich?"
Act 1, Scene 1: "They are ringing for matins"
Act I, Scene 2: Introduction
Act I, Scene 2: "I caught a grey drake"
Act I, Scene 2: "Give me some fun"
Act I, Scene 2, "Why are you so pensive, comrade?"
Act I, Scene 2: "Here's what happened at the town of Kazan"
Act I, Scene 2: "Why don't you sing along?"
Act I, Scene 2: "We are humble elders, honest monks"
Act I, Scene 2: "What are you staring at me like that for"
Act I, Scene 2: "And his age... and his age..."
Act II: "Where are you, my Betrothed"
Act II: "Oh, that's enough, Princess, my dear!"
Act II: "A gnat was chopping wood"
Act II: "My little tale is about this and that"
Act II: "What's the matter? Has a wild beast surprised a sitting hen?"
Act II: "I have achieved absolute power"
Act II: "Hey, Pss!"
Act II: "Our little parrot was with the Nannies"
Act II: "Ah, it's you, glorious orator"
Act II: "In Uglich, in the cathedral, in front of all the people"
Act II: "Phew! I feel terrible! Let me catch my breath"
Act III, Scene 1: "By the sky-blue waters of the vistula, under a shady willow"
Act III, Scene 1: "Enough! The beautiful lady is grateful"
Act III, Scene 1: "Marina is bored. Oh, how bored!"
Act III, Scene 1: "Ah! Oh, it's you, my father"
Act III, Scene 1: "With tender, ardent words of love"
Act III, Scene 1: "What? You impudent liar!"
Act III, Scene 2: "At midnight, in the garden, by the fountain"
Act III, Scene 2:"Tsarevich!"
Act III, Scene 2:"Can a humble and sinful man, praying for his dear ones"
Act III, Scene 2:"Tsarevich, hide!"
Act III, Scene 2: Polonaise - "I do not believe in your passion, sir"
Act III, Scene 2:"That crafty Jesuit, he has got me firmly in the grip"
Act III, Scene 2: "How long and agonizing"
Act III, Scene 2: "Oh, Tsarevich, I beg you"
Act III, Scene 2:"Oh, my turtledoves!"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1869 Version): Introduction
Act IV, Scene 1 (1869 Version): "What, is Mass Finished Already?"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1869 Version): "Trrr, trrr - Iron cap"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1869 Version): "Aaah! Boris"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1874 Version): Introduction
Act IV, Scene 1 (1874 Version):"Exalted boyars!"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1874 Version):"Well, then? Let's go and vote, Boyars"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1874 Version):"What a shame that prince Shuisky isn't here"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1874 Version):"He was whispering: keep away, keep away"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1874 Version):"Here, by the front entrance"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1874 Version): "A Humble Monk"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1874 Version): "Once, in the Evening"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1874 Version):"The Tsarevich - Quickly!"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1874 Version):"Farewell, My Son!"
Act IV, Scene 1 (1874 Version):"A bell! A Funeral Knell!"
Act IV, Scene 2 (1874 Version): Introduction
Act IV, Scene 2 (1874 Version):"Bring Him Over Here!" (Tramps)
Act IV, Scene 2 (1874 Version): "It's Not a Falcon Flying in the Heavens" (Tramps)
Act IV, Scene 2 (1874 Version): "The sun and moon have grown dark"
Act IV, Scene 2 (1874 Version): "Hey Ho!"
Act IV, Scene 2 (1874 Version): "Domine, Domine, salvum fac"
Act IV, Scene 2 (1874 Version): March - "Glory to You, Tsarevich"
Act IV, Scene 2 (1874 Version): "We, Dimitri Ivanovich"
Act IV, Scene 2 (1874 Version): "Flow, Flow, Bitter Tears"
About This Work
The idea to re-cast Alexander Pushkin's verse play Boris Godunov as an opera was suggested to Modest Mussorgsky by history professor Vladimir Nikolsky during a visit to Ludmila Shestakova's home in St. Petersburg. Shestakova sent Mussorgsky a copy ofRead more
the play, which he'd adapt by the fall of 1868. The first version of Boris Godunov was composed between October 1868 and July 1869, with the orchestration done by December. Mussorgsky submitted the score of Boris to the Imperial Directorate of Theaters, which in February 1871 rejected the work. The Directorate's grounds for dismissing Boris Godunov had little to do with the revolutionary style of the opera; rather it was the lack of a central female character that was their primary concern. The Directorate recognized Mussorgsky's talent, and offered to reconsider provided an additional scene was added. Mussorgsky took this news with encouragement, and launched into a major overhaul of the opera, reaching far beyond what was required. He trimmed scenes, such as the one in Pimen's cell, and added others, including the scene in the Kromy forest, added dances, and added the role of Marina Mnishek. This version of the opera was accepted after a trial run of three scenes at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg in December 1873. Boris Godunov premiered under Nápravnik at the Mariinsky in January 1874.
Boris Godunov was an unqualified success with the Russian public from the first. It was revived five times by 1882 for a total of 22 performances, unheard of for a native Russian opera. Boris Godunov has gone on to become the most popular of all Russian operas. Internationally, the version made by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov earned this popularity through a luxuriant re-scoring of Mussorgsky's deliberately gritty orchestral textures. Hardly had the newer version begun to play the capitals of Europe before the call went out among critics to revive Mussorgsky's "original version." The problem is that there are two "original" versions that are distinctly different from one another. Starting in the 1970s, various combinations of the two became the standard for Boris, based on David Lloyd-Jones' 1975 critical edition that prints both operas side-by-side. Any combination of the 1869 and 1872 versions of Boris Godunov makes a muddle of the scenario; the 1869 version is tightly constructed in four "parts," totaling just seven scenes. It is bleak in tone and resembles Bertolt Brecht's alienist theater of the 1920s more than it does nineteenth-century opera. Boris is made more of an obvious villain in the first version than in the revision, which leaves that question open-ended. The 1872 version is also more expansive, laid out in four acts and a prologue, scenes run longer, and the edge of 1869 is softened somewhat. It wasn't until 1998 that a recording of the two versions of Boris were issued together within a single unit, and in practice the general consensus has become that one or the other Boris Godunov should be chosen when the "original" Mussorgsky score is presented.
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