Boris Godunov is the most famous Russian opera of all time and gave its creator, Modest Mussorgsky, a permanent spot in Russian history. The opera is fundamentally Russian as it uses variations of Russian folk music, a heavy appearance of horns, and plays off famous historical context of the country. The political themes of the opera come full circle as they directly relates to the political state of Russia during Mussorgsky’s lifetime. The operas emotional conflicts dealing with guilt, love, lust, greed, and the struggle for power are what makes this opera universally relatable. This is why the opera is not only one of the most important pieces of Russian composition, but one of the most famous pieces in the world.
The young Modest Mussorgsky was born in 1839 in Russia. His mother was a virtuoso pianist, and gave Modest piano lessons since he was very young. By the age of seven he was already showing great promise, and could play some of Franz Liszt’s pieces. In 1849, at only ten years old, his father took Modest to St. Petersburg to the Peter-Paul School in preparation for a military career. His father also took into consideration Modest’s musical passions, his father entrusted Modest to Anton Gerke, who would later be a professor of music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. In 1852 Mussorgsky entered the School for Cadets of the Guard. It was in the School for Cadets of the Guard that Mussorgsky composed his first piece, the Podpraporshchik. In his years in the army he met and learned from several of the men who later become members of The Five.
Beginning in 1856 Mussorgsky began visiting St. Petersburg to meet with The Five, which was made up of himself and four other Russian composers. Their aim was to create music that was authentically Russian and did not rely on the styles, or training of older European composers. They incorporated a lot of Russian Folk music into their works. However, Modest was often ridiculed by the other members for his work being too much like the European composers, and Modest was often bullied by them into altering things he had already been happy with in his pieces. Since devoting his life exclusively to music in 1858 he had become very poor. Mussorgsky was a landowner, since inheriting the lands his father left him after his death. In 1861, Tsar Alexander II freed the peasants of Russia from the system of serfdom. Because of this Mussorgsky was forced to give up a considerable amount of land to newly freed serfs, and sent him into poverty. He even had to seek help from moneylenders, which was much looked down upon in this time, especially for someone of higher social status like Mussorgsky.
By 1866 Modest Mussorgsky had created several remarkable songs whose inspiration was mostly about ordinary people. Some of these songs were “Darling Savishna,” “Hopak,” and “The Seminarist.” In 1869 he began his great work, Boris Godunov, to his own libretto based on the drama by Aleksandr Pushkin. His first draft was...