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Modest Mussorgsky

(1839—1881) Russian composer

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(b Karevo, Pskov, 1839; d St Petersburg, 1881).

Russ. composer. Showed mus. talent as a child but was destined for an army career. In 1857 he met Balakirev in St Petersburg and studied with him, resigning his commission the next year. His early songs and pf. pieces show little sign of his later achievement, but by 1864 he was writing fine songs. He started and abandoned 2 operas, but began work in 1868 on Boris Godunov, which he rev. when it was rejected by the Imperial Th. On its prod. in 1874 it pleased audiences but not musicians, who resented its unconventional methods and unusual style in which speech‐inflexion governed the vocal lines. Over the next few years Mussorgsky worked on 2 operas, but his heavy drinking, a habit acquired at cadet school, sapped his capacity for concentrated work. He was one of the group of 5 Russ. composers of nationalist tendencies known as the ‘Mighty handful’. After his death his works were completed and ‘improved’ by Rimsky‐Korsakov and others, but in the 20th cent. his realistic and progressive qualities have been recognized and his orig. scores have been restored where possible. Prin. comps.:



(unfinished, 1863–6);

The Marriage

(1 act only finished) (1868);

Boris Godunov

(1868–9, rev. 1871–2, rev. 1873);


(projected 4‐act opera‐ballet of which Cui, Rimsky‐Korsakov, and Borodin were to compose the other 3 acts, 1872);


(1873, 5th act unfinished);

Sorochintsy Fair

(1876–81, unfinished).


Night on the Bare Mountain

(1867, rev. 1872, 1874).


Souvenir d'Enfance



(1861, orch. and expanded 1867);

Memories of Childhood


Pictures at an Exhibition



Many solo songs and 3 song‐cycles: The Nursery (7 songs) (1868–72);


(6 songs) (1874);

Songs and Dances of Death

(4 songs) (1875–7). (The famous Song of the Flea dates from 1879.)

Subjects: Music

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