Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (Russian: Моде́ст Петро́вич Му́соргский, 21 March [9 March in the Julian calendar] 1839 28 March [16 March in the Julian calendar] 1881) was a Russian composer of great originality, though almost all of his most popular works are best known in forms created by other composers, notably Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. A member of the "Russian Five" (Or 'The Mighty Handful'), Mussorgsky trained as a soldier, and then became a civil servant, though wasn't particularly successful at either. A decline fuelled by alcohol and penury resulted in his early death at the age of 42.
In his lifetime, Mussorgksy's works were not well received, but the arrangements of his Pictures at an Exhibition (by Maurice Ravel) and A Night on Bald Mountain (by the youngest member of the Five, Nikolay Rimsky Korsakov) established both as popular concert pieces, while the reputations of the original versions are also undergoing much re-evaluation. His only finished opera, Boris Godunov, is among the most popular of all Russian operas.
Mussorgsky's works that have their own page:
Tropes concerning the man and the work include:
- The Alcoholic: Mussorgsky hung out with a group of artists who saw drinking as a way to rebel against the establishment. A famous portrait of the composer◊ shows him clearly suffering the symptoms of alcoholism; sadly, he died of its effects a few days after the painting's completion.
- Ambiguously Gay: Mussorgsky never married and never had a romantic relationship with a woman. He formed close attachments to several heterosexual men, most notably the painter Viktor Alexandrovich Hartmann (whose work provided the basis for Pictures at an Exhibition), but seems not to have had any stable romantic relationships with men, either. He frequently appears on lists of famous gay composers, regardless.
- Anti-Villain: Boris Godunov, who, as in Pushkin's play, is overcome with remorse at his actions.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: Act 1 of Boris Godunov ends with a spectacular coronation sequence, complete with bells pealing and full choir.
- Covered Up: Many of his compositions are better known in orchestral arrangements by Nikolay Rimsky Korsakov or Maurice Ravel.
- Kill 'Em All: The four movements of the song cycle Songs And Dances Of Death depict the death of a baby, a teenage girl, a drunken and frostbitten peasant, and soldiers on a battlefield. One of the bleakest works of the Romantic Period, as well as one of its most effective (though his song cycle Sunless runs a close second in pessimism).
- Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Mussorgsky was a patriotic Russian and this is seen in themes and musical styles of many of his compositions.
- Patriotic Fervor: He was a firm believer in utilizing authentically Russian subject matter and musical techniques in his works, as were the rest of the "Russian Five," and was in fact the group's most extreme example of this tendency. His music was considered very daring for its time, subverting Western melodic and harmonic conventions and influencing early 20th century composers such as Claude Debussy.
- Posthumous Collaboration: Mussorgsky left several of his works unfinished or in various states of disrepair. Pictures at an Exhibition, originally written for solo piano, has been orchestrated many times, most notably by Maurice Ravel. Nikolay Rimsky Korsakov reorchestrated and rearranged Night on Bald Mountain and Boris Godunov and completed several other works, most notably the opera Khovanshchina.
- Standard Snippet: Night on Bald Mountain for anything relating to dark magic, especially after it was featured in Fantasia. The Pictures at an Exhibition suite is also used, funnily enough, for art programmes. Although at one exhibition of Russian holograms staged in London, Pictures at an Exhibition was about the only well-known piece of Russian classical music that wasn't used.
- Uncommon Time: He was an early adopter of unconventional time signatures, such as in the "Promenade" from Pictures at an Exhibition which alternates between 5/4 and 6/4.