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Mogyeszt Petrovics Musorgskij

Modest Mussorgsky was born on 21st March 1839 in Karevo, Russia.  He first started to study music with his mother who gave him piano lessons, at the age of nine he played in a field concert to an audience in his parents’ house. Mussorgsky’s intended career was as a military officer; and in 1852 he entered the Cadet School of the Guards in St Petersburg. Music remained important to him however.

Although at this point he had not studied harmony or composition, he still tried to write an opera in 1856. In 1857 he met Balakirev through friends and then persuaded Balakirev to give him piano lessons. He then left the army and went on to compose, nothing came of it and even his close friends were disappointed in him. In 1867 he spent the summer at his brother’s house where he was inspired to write his first orchestral work. He had been deeply hurt by the death of his mother in 1865 and had been dismissed from his latest job.

Early in 1869 Mussorgsky re-entered government service and, in more settled conditions, was able to complete the original version of the opera Boris Godunov. This was rejected by the Mariinsky Theatre and Mussorgsky set about revising it. In 1872 the opera was again rejected, but excerpts were performed elsewhere and a vocal score published. The opera committee finally accepted the work and a successful production was mounted in February 1874. Meanwhile Mussorgsky had begun work on another historical opera, Khovanshchina, at the same time gaining promotion at the ministry. Progress on the new opera was interrupted partly because of unsettled domestic circumstances, but mainly because heavy drinking left Mussorgsky incapable of creativity and inspiration. <BR><P>

Several other compositions belong to this period, including the song cycles Sunless and Songs and Dances of Death and the Pictures at an Exhibition, for piano, a brilliant and bold series inspired by a memorial exhibition of drawings by his friend Victor Hartmann. His desire was to relate his art as closely as possible to life, especially that of the Russian masses, to nourish it on events and to employ it as a means for communicating human experience. On 23 February 1881 in a state of nervous excitement, Mussorgsky said that there was nothing left for him but to beg in the streets; he was suffering from alcoholic epilepsy. He was moved to hospital, where he died a month later on 29 March 1881.