Many of his works were inspired by Russian history, Russian folklore, and other nationalist themes. Such works include the opera Boris Godunov, the orchestral tone poem Night on Bare Mountain, and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition.
For many years Mussorgsky's works were mainly known in versions revised or completed by other composers. Many of his most important compositions have recently come into their own in their original forms, and some of the original scores are now also available.
Design for the Naval department of Russia's pavilion at the Vienna World Fair of 1873
Modest Mussorgsky was a Russian composer, one of the group known as "The Five". He was an innovator of Russian music in the romantic period. Mussorgsky is best known today for his popular piano composition Pictures at an Exhibition: the Russian composer drew inspiration for the piece from an exhibit of watercolors by his friend, artist Victor Hartmann. Hartmann was a Russian architect and painter. Vladimir Stasov had introduced him to the circle of Mily Balakirev in 1870 and he had been a close friend of the composer Modest Mussorgsky.
From his peak a pattern of decline becomes increasingly apparent. Already the Balakirev circle was disintegrating. Mussorgsky was especially bitter about this. He wrote to Vladimir Stasov, "The mighty Koocha has degenerated into soulless traitors." In drifting away from his old friends, Mussorgsky had been seen to fall victim to 'fits of madness' that could well have been alcoholism-related. His friend Viktor Hartmann had died, and his relative and recent roommate Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov (who furnished the poems for the song-cycle Sunless and would go on to provide those for the Songs and Dances of Death) had moved away to get married.
While alcoholism was Mussorgsky's personal weakness, it was also a behavior pattern considered typical for those of Mussorgsky's generation who wanted to oppose the establishment and protest through extreme forms of behavior. One contemporary notes, "an intense worship of Bacchus was considered to be almost obligatory for a writer of that period. It was a showing off, a 'pose,' for the best people of the [eighteen-]sixties." Another writes, "Talented people in Russia who love the simple folk cannot but drink." Mussorgsky spent day and night in a Saint Petersburg tavern of low repute, the Maly Yaroslavets, accompanied by other bohemian dropouts. He and his fellow drinkers idealized their alcoholism, perhaps seeing it as ethical and aesthetic opposition. This bravado, however, led to little more than isolation and eventual self-destruction.
For a time Mussorgsky was able to maintain his creative output: his compositions from 1874 include Sunless, the Khovanschina Prelude, and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition (in memory of Hartmann); he also began work on another opera based on Gogol, The Fair at Sorochyntsi (for which he produced another choral version of Night on Bald Mountain).
In the years that followed, Mussorgsky's decline became increasingly steep. Although now part of a new circle of eminent personages that included singers, medical men and actors, he was increasingly unable to resist drinking, and a succession of deaths among his closest associates caused him great pain. At times, however, his alcoholism would seem to be in check, and among the most powerful works composed during his last 6 years are the four Songs and Dances of Death. His civil service career was made more precarious by his frequent 'illnesses' and absences, and he was fortunate to obtain a transfer to a post (in the Office of Government Control) where his music-loving superior treated him with great leniency – in 1879 even allowing him to spend 3 months touring 12 cities as a singer's accompanist.
The decline could not be halted, however. In 1880 he was finally dismissed from government service. Aware of his destitution, one group of friends organised a stipend designed to support the completion of Khovanschina; another group organised a similar fund to pay him to complete The Fair at Sorochyntsi. However, neither work was completed (although Khovanschina, in piano score with only two numbers uncomposed, came close to being finished).
In early 1881 a desperate Mussorgsky declared to a friend that there was 'nothing left but begging', and suffered four seizures in rapid succession. Though he found a comfortable room in a good hospital – and for several weeks even appeared to be rallying – the situation was hopeless. Repin painted the famous red-nosed portrait in what were to be the last days of the composer's life: a week after his 42nd birthday, he was dead. He was interred at the Tikhvin Cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in Saint Petersburg.
Mussorgsky, like others of 'The Five', was perceived as extremist by the Emperor and much of his court. This may have been the reason Tsar Alexander III personally crossed off Boris Godunov from the list of proposed pieces for the Imperial Opera in 1888.
Mussorgsky's most imaginative and frequently performed work is the cycle of piano pieces describing paintings in sound called Pictures at an Exhibition. This composition, best known through an orchestral arrangement by Maurice Ravel, was written in commemoration of his friend, the architect Viktor Hartmann.
Viktor Alexandrovich Hartmann (Russian: Ви́ктор Александро́вич Га́ртман; 5 May 1834, St Petersburg - 4 August 1873, Kireyevo near Moscow) was a Russian architect and painter. He was associated with the Abramtsevo Colony, purchased and preserved beginning in 1870 by Savva Mamontov, and the Russian Revival.
Victor-Edouard Hartmann was born in St. Petersburg into a family of French ancestry. He was orphaned at a young age and grew up in the house of his mother's sister, L. Hemilian, and her husband Alexandre Hemilian, who was a well-known architect. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg and at first started working by illustrating books.
He also worked as an architect and sketched, among other things, the monument to the thousandth anniversary of Russia in Novgorod, which was inaugurated in 1862. He made most of his water colors and pencil drawings on journeys abroad in the years 1864 to 1868. Together with Ivan Ropet, Hartmann was one of the first artists to include traditional Russian motifs in his work.
Since Vladimir Stasov had introduced him to the circle of Mily Balakirev in 1870, he had been a close friend of the composer Modest Mussorgsky. Following Hartmann's early death from an aneurysm at the age of only 39, an exhibition of over 400 of his paintings was displayed in the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg, in February and March 1874. This inspired Mussorgsky to compose his suite Pictures at an Exhibition. Most of the works shown at the 1874 exhibition are now lost.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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