Modest Mussorgsky (born 21 March 1839, died 28 March 1881)

Born in Karevo in 1839, Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky is considered one of the five great Russian nationalist composers of the nineteenth century. By all accounts, he was consistently gloomy, and subject to depression and alcholism. His contemporaries felt his work did not measure up; Cui calls his composition 'loose, indiscriminate, complacent, hasty' and Rimsky-Korsakov was continually revising his work to correct what his peers and critics saw as flaws.

In 1867, Mussorgsky wrote his first important orchestral score: called A Night on Bald Mountain or St. John's Night on Bare Mountain. In 1869, Mussorgsky finished the original version of the opera Boris Godunov. This version was rejected by the Mariinsky Theatre and he set about revising it. The theatre again rejected it in 1872, though a vocal score was published elsewhere. Finally, the theatre accepted the work and it was first performed in February 1874. However, it was Rimsky-Korsakov's version which was performed first outside of Russia. Changes to the opera included drastic cuts, wholesale rewriting and rescoring, insertion of new music and transposition of scenes.

What may be his most popular work -- Pictures at an Exhibition -- suffered much the same fate. "Pictures" is a cycle of ten pieces introduced by a Promenade and connected by interludes. The inspiration for this was an exhibition of art by Victor Hartmann. Mussorgsky did not attempt to reproduce the subjective impression the pictures created in him, but instead described the scenes depicted themselves. He even included himself in the musical observations; the Promenade and interludes show the composer 'moving now to the left, now to the right, now wandering about aimlessly, now eagerly making for one of the pictures'. Maurice Ravel scored this work for orchestra in 1922. That orchestration has competed with the original in popularity ever since.

The first editors of Pictures at an Exhibition thought it wiser not to propagate the harsh harmonies which were too daring. Many of his creations were unfinished, and their editing and posthumous publication were mainly carried out by Rimsky-Korsakov. These edits and modifications to most of his compositions blurred the strict realism Mussorgsky's work shows.

A partial list of Mussorgsky's compositions:

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