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Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition: Essay

2122 words - 8 pages

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was born in Karevo, Pskov province, on March 21st, 1839. His family could be traced back through thirty-two generations to the Rurik, which is the first Russian dynasty (862). He wasn’t descended from any prestigious or royal family because by the 15th century, his family lost their title (Seroff, 3). His mother, who was an excellent pianist, gave him his first piano lessons. At age nine he played a Field concerto before an audience in his parents' house. In 1852 he entered the Guards' cadet school in St Petersburg. Although he had not studied harmony or composition, he tried to write an opera in 1856, which was the same year he entered the Guards. In 1857 he met Dargomïzhsky and Cui, and through them Balakirev and Stasov. He persuaded Balakirev to give him lessons and thereupon composed songs and piano sonatas (M.R.Ho., 753).

        Around the year 1856, a group called The Mighty Handful was formed. This group opposed the European-trained musicians. The leader of this nationalist group was Mili Balakiref (1837 - 1910). Cesar Cui (1835 - 1918) is also sometimes considered jointly with Balakiref to be their leader. Other members of the group were Alexander Borodin (1833 - 1887), Modest Mussorgsky, and Rimsky Korsakov. Mussorgsky was one that stood out in the group. Mussorgsky's commitment emerged primarily in opera. Concern for musical realism and sensitivity to broad social and moral issues appeared vividly in his songs of the 1860s, including "The Seminarian," "The Outcast," and "The Orphan Girl". These elements, however, gained cumulative power in his operas. In 1863-66 he set about adapting Gustave Flaubert's Salammbo, then turned to Nikolai Gogol's The Marriage, but completed neither. He started Boris Godunov in 1868. A first version was completed in 1869, but it was rejected by the Imperial Theaters because of its major break with operatic convention. Mussorgsky remodeled the score in 1871-72. This classic version was published in vocal score just before the opera's premiere in 1874. Mussorgsky was already writing Khovanshchina, another historical opera, and soon started the lighthearted Fair at Sorochinsk. (Rimsky-Korsakov completed Khovanshchina, along with editing and revising other works, including Boris Godunov; Cesar Cui.) The 1870s also produced the song cycles Sunless and Songs and Dances of Death, the tone poem A Night on Bald Mountain, and the piano cycle Pictures from an Exhibition (Brown).
One of Modest Mussorgsky’s closest companions was Victor Hartmann, an architect and occasional painter. Mussorgsky became friends with Hartman in 1870. Around 1873, Hartman passed away at age 39 of an aneurysm, which left Mussorgsky devastated. Hartman’s death left Mussorgsky feeling guilty for not recognizing and acting on Hartman’s fatal condition. Mussorgsky then began work on a composition in memory of him. The following year, an exhibition was organized in honor of Hartmann, and...


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