Modest Petrovich Moussorgsky

Modest Petrovich Moussorgsky (mədyĕst´ pĕtrô´vĬch mōōsôrg´skē), 1839–81, Russian composer. His name is also transliterated as Mussorgsky and Musorgsky. He was one of the first to promote a national Russian style. A member of the minor aristocracy and an officer in the Imperial Guard until 1858, he was later a government clerk. His study with Mili Balakirev and his associations with other composers encouraged him to become a composer himself, although his musical training was sketchy and never satisfied him. His masterpiece is the opera Boris Godunov (1868–69, revised 1871–72, produced St. Petersburg, 1874), in which he successfully combined realism and lyricism. Other important works are the opera Khovanshchina (1886); the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition (1874), later orchestrated by Maurice Ravel;A Night on Bald Mountain (1867), for orchestra; and many songs and three song cycles.

Moussorgsky succumbed to alcoholism in a Saint Petersburg hospital at the age of 41. Most of his music was edited and revised after his death by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and others, often to such an extent that the originals were seriously misrepresented. Moussorgsky made much use of Russian folk songs, and his settings of Russian texts are unexcelled. Expression and communication were paramount for him; form, inconsequential. In working out a Russian idiom, his rejection of many European standards and practices influenced not only Russian composers but also Claude Debussy and other French composers.

See letters and documents in The Musorgsky Reader, ed. by J. Leyda and S. Bertensson (1947, repr. 1970); biographies by M. D. Calvocoressi (1946, rev. ed. 1974), V. I. Seroff (1968), O. von Riesemann (tr. 1929, repr. 1970), and D. Brown (2003).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Modest Petrovich Moussorgsky: Selected full-text books and articles

Moussorgsky By Oskar von Riesemann; Paul England Alfred A. Knopf, 1929
The Musorgsky Reader: A Life of Modeste Petrovich Musorgsky in Letters and Documents By Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky; Jay Leyda; Sergei Bertensson W.W. Norton, 1947
The Curve of the Sacred: An Exploration of Human Spirituality By Constantin V. Ponomareff; Kenneth A. Bryson Rodopi, 2006
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Five "Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain"
Romanticism (1830-1890) By Gerald Abraham Oxford University Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: "Mussorgsky" begins on p. 446
Makers of Opera By Kathleen O'Donnell Hoover H. Bittner, 1948
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 16 "Mussorgsky: Musical Folk Drama"
Viva La Liberta! Politics in Opera By Anthony Arblaster Verso, 1992
Librarian’s tip: "Mussorgsky: Opera and History" begins on p. 198
The World of Great Composers By David Ewen Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962
Librarian’s tip: "Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1891)" begins on p. 391
The Music Lover's Handbook By Elie Siegmeister William Morrow, 1943
Librarian’s tip: "Modeste Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition" begins on p. 197 and "Modeste Mussorgsky" begins on p. 537
FREE! Tchaikovsky and His Contemporaries: A Centennial Symposium By Alexandar Mihailovic Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Truth vs. Beauty: Comparative Text Settings by Musorgsky and Tchaikovsky"
Conductors on Composers By John L. Holmes Greenwood Press, 1993
Librarian’s tip: "Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)" begins on p. 126
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