Modest Mussorgsky

Biography

Born: Mar 21, 1839; Russia   Died: Mar 28, 1881; Russia   Period: Romantic
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 Bald Read 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
Mussorgsky, Glinka, Bohme, Alabiev /Fine Arts Brass Ensemble
Release Date: 06/13/2000   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 5645   Number of Discs: 1
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Mussorgsky, Stravinsky: Music For 2 Pianos
Release Date: 08/03/2004   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 5733   Number of Discs: 1
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Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition; Balakirev, Scriabin: Sonatas / Smith
Release Date: 08/14/2012   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 5187   Number of Discs: 1
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Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition; Tchaikovsky: Album For The Young / Feltsman
Release Date: 08/13/2013   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 6211   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Songs and dances of death

 

I. Lullaby
II. Serenade
III. Trepak
IV. The Warrior
About This Work
It is a mistake to regard all of Rimsky-Korsakov's editing of the works of Mussorgsky as blasphemous defilement. There were extenuating circumstances. First, Rimsky believed he was genuinely performing a service for his friend. They had lived Read more together in the late 1860s and early 1870s. Second, Rimsky, like nearly every friend Mussorgsky had, considered him mentally feeble, an image his alcoholism did nothing to contradict. Third, without Rimsky's editing, most of Mussorgsky's works would not have entered the repertoire. Fourth, Rimsky performed the same editing job on his own music, re-writing and re-orchestrating most of it during the 1880s, the same period that he was re-writing and re-orchestrating Mussorgsky's music. Fifth, editing the works of a dead composer was not an action which Rimsky perpetrated only on Mussorgsky; he and his pupil Glazunov also edited -- and re-wrote and re-orchestrated -- Borodin's opera Prince Igor.

That having been said, however, the case of Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death is an entirely separate issue. That Mussorgsky would have orchestrated them himself had he lived is nearly certain. But that he would have re-composed the Songs and orchestrated them in a pallid and lifeless manner is as nearly certain. Yet Rimsky and Glazunov did re-compose and orchestrate the Songs -- Rimsky-Korsakov did Serenade and The Field Marshal while Glazunov did Trepak and Cradle Song -- and in every case they blunted the songs, planing down the melodies and smoothing over the harmonies until the works are a ghost of their former morbid glory.

For many years, Rimsky and Glazunov's orchestral version of the songs was the one most frequently performed; indeed, even so staunch a Mussorgsky partisan as Boris Christoff recorded the Songs in Rimsky and Glazunov's edition as late as the '50s. That version has been superseded by Dmitri Shostakovich's orchestration of the work. Shostakovich's scoring sounds little like the work of Mussorgsky -- it sounds like Shostakovich's own orchestral voice through Mussorgsky -- but, unlike Rimsky and Glazunov, Shostakovich respects the integrity of Mussorgsky's music and his edition has now become the preferred version.

-- James Leonard
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Modest Mussorgsky


WORKS
Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
The Gnome
Promenade
Il vecchio castello
Promenade
Tuileries
Bydlo
Promenade
Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle
Promenade
Limoges -- The Market
Catacombs (Sepulchrum romanum)
Con mortuis in lingua mortua
The Hut on Fowl's Legs
The Great Gate at Kiev
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - Promenade
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - Gnomus
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - Promenade
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - The Old Castle
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - Promenade
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - The Tuileries Gardens
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - Bydlo
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - Promenade
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - Ballet Of The Chickens In Their Shells
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - Samuel Goldenberg And Schmuyle
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - The Marketplace At Limoges
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - The Catacombs (Sepulchrum romanum)
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - Cum mortuis in lingua mortua
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - The Hut On Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yaga)
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition - The Great Gate Of Kiev
Prologue, Scene 1, Introduction
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"
I. Lullaby
II. Serenade
III. Trepak
IV. The Warrior


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