Modest Mussorgsky Bio

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  • Topic: Modest Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition, Vladimir Stasov
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  • Published : October 12, 2012
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Modest Mussorgsky
Russia has produced many great composers – Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Rachmaninoff are all very well known. In the mid-1800s, a group of 5 composers, known as “The Five,” greatly influenced Russian music by incorporating Russian folk and religious melodies and styles into their works. Modest Mussorgsky was one of “The Five” and his works helped define the Russian Nationalistic style. Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was born in Karevo, Russia on March 21, 1839. His parents were landowners and members of the minor nobility, but his some of his descendents had been serfs. He spent the first ten years of his life on the family estate. In his autobiographical sketch written late in his life, Mussorgsky said that he learned about Russian folklore and fairy tales from his nurse when he was a toddler. He wrote, “This early familiarity with the spirit of the people, with the way they lived, lent the first and greatest impetus to my musical improvisations…” (Mussorgsky) When he was 6 years old, he started taking piano lessons from his mother, who was herself an accomplished pianist. When he was 10 years old, his father took Modest and his older brother Filaret to St. Petersburg and enrolled them in the Peterschule – an elite school for the sons of gentry – to prepare them for a military career. While enrolled, he began to study piano with Anton Herke (who would later become professor of music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory), an acclaimed pianist in St. Petersburg (Mussorgsky). After spending two years at the Peterschule, he spent a year at A. A. Komarov’s boarding school for prospective cadets. He entered the Cadet School of the Guards in 1852. During that period, it was common for young men in his social class to become military officers (Oldani). It was there that Mussorgsky published his first composition, the Podpraporshchik (Porte-Enseigne Polka). In the tradition of all college students, the work was published at his father’s expense (Mussorgsky). This composition was originally lost, but was rediscovered and published in 1947. In 1856, Mussorgsky graduated from school and was commissioned as an officer in the Russian Imperial Guard. In August 1856, he met Alekandr Borodin, a fellow army officer. During the winter of 1856, Mussorgsky discovered the music of Mikhail Glinka and that discovery stoked the Russophilic fire in Mussorgsky. On June 17, 1858, Mussorgsky resigned his commission in the Russian military so that he could devote all his time to music. In June 1859, while visiting an acquaintance near Moscow, Mussorgsky saw the Kremlin for the first time which strengthened his connection with Russian history (Oldani). In 1861, Tsar Alexander II abolished serfdom and the serfs were freed from servile status. Property owners were forced to hand over land to the now-free serfs (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). This decree was very hard on the minor nobility – the Mussorgsky family included. Mussorgsky’s father had died in 1853, and the family estate was already being poorly administered. Losing their land only exacerbated the situation. During 1861 and 1862, Mussorgsky had to help his brother with running the matters of the estate; however, because of the reforms, the family was gradually forced into poverty. In 1863, Mussorgsky had to accept a job as a civil servant in the Ministry of Communications (Mussorgsky). Oldani notes that he also moved into a commune with “five other young men, living in the same flat and ardently cultivating and exchanging scientistic ideas on art, religion, philosophy and politics.” In 1865, his mother died and he started drinking heavily. He moved in with his brother and sister-in-law, which helped with his recovery; however, he would continue to have alcohol problems for the rest of his life (Oldani). 1866 marked the beginning of Mussorgsky’s maturity as a composer. During that year, he completed a compilation of 18 songs, plus some other songs (Oldani)....
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