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Modest Musorgsky

Composer

Biography

Russian composer Modest Musorgsky (1839–81) developed a new way of composing for the Russian language that achieved great lyric beauty while remaining intimately bound with the rhythms of the text – a distinct characteristic evident (in different ways) in both versions of his masterpiece Boris Godunov. In addition to his songs, he is best known for the orchestral work St John’s Night on Bald Mountain and the piano suite Pictures from an Exhibition (often heard in Ravel’s orchestration).

Musorgsky was born in Karevo to wealthy parents. Aged six he began studying music with his mother, and aged ten he began formal piano studies when he moved to St Petersburg as a student. He continued these studies as entered the Cadet School of the Guards and later graduated into the prestigious Preobrazhensky Regiment (1856). That year he met the composer Dargomïzhsky and through him encountered Balakirev, with whom he studied composition. In 1858 he resigned his commission to focus on music; completed works from this period include two scherzos for the piano. Declining family fortunes in the wake of the Great Reform of 1861 obliged him to take a position with the civil service (1863–7), during which time he started the unfinished opera Salammbô and completed the song collection Years of Youth and St John’s Night on Bald Mountain. He found another position with the civil service in 1868 and that year began work on Boris Godunov, completed 1870 and extensively revised 1870–74. The opera’s eventual premiere, of the revised version, at the Mariinsky Theatre in 1874 was a tremendous success. Other completed works include Pictures from an Exhibition (1874) and the song collections The Nursery (1872), Sunless (1874) and Songs and Dances of Death (1875). He began the operas Khovanshchina in 1872 and Sorochintsï Fair in 1874, both of which remained uncompleted at his death.

Musorgsky’s highly individual approach to composition was often deplored by his contemporaries, but his music was an important inspiration for such composers of following generations as Debussy and Ravel.

Videos

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Photos

Boris Pinkhasovich as Andrei Shchelkalov in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov and Matthew Rose as Pimen in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov and Roger Honeywell as Prince Shuisky in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Sam Furness as Holy Fool in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

David Butt Philip as Grigory Optrepiev and Matthew Rose as Pimen in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Christopher Lemmings as Boyar in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov, Haegee Lee as Xenia and Fiona Kimm as Xenia's Nurse in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

David Butt Philip as Grigory Optrepiev and Anne Marie Gibbons as Hostess of the Inn in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Production photo of Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Production photo of Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov

Bryn Terfel in Boris Godunov

John Graham-Hall in Boris Godunov

James Platt and David Butt Philip in Boris Godunov

Vlada Borovko as Xenia, Sarah Pring As Xenia’s Nurse in Boris Godunov

Ain Anger as Pimen in Boris Godunov Godunov

Kostas Smoriginas as Andrey Shchelkalov in Boris Godunov

Modest Musorgsky, 1870

Production photo of Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Matthew Rose as Pimen and Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Haegee Lee as Xenia in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Alan Ewing as Frontier Guard and John Tomlinson as Varlaam in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

David Butt Philip as Grigory Optrepiev in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Matthew Rose as Pimen and David Butt Philip as Grigory Optrepiev in Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Production photo of Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Production photo of Boris Godunov, The Royal Opera

Harry Nicoll and John Tomlinson in Boris Godunov

David Butt Philip in Boris Godunov

Bryn Terfel and John Graham-Hall in Boris Godunov

Bryn Terfel and John Graham-Hall in Boris Godunov

Ain Anger as Pimen in Boris Godunov Godunov