Mussorgsky, Modest

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (21 March 1839 – 28 March 1881)

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (21 March 1839 – 28 March 1881)

 Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (21 March 1839 – 28 March 1881) was a Russian composer, innovator of Russian music in the romantic period. One of the group known as “The Five”. Among the composers of the “Mighty Handful” Mussorgsky was the most prominent exponent of the music of the revolutionary-democratic ideas of the 60s of XIX century. It was Mussorgsky who, like no one else, managed to open the stern truth about the life of the Russian people with music, with a great accusatory force, to recreate, as Vladimir Stasov said, “the whole ocean of Russian people, life, characters, relationships, unhappiness, unbearable burden , Humiliation”. Whatever Mussorgsky wrote operas, songs, choruses, – everywhere it appears angry and passionate witness against social injustice. Following largely the covenants Dargomyzhsky, calling him “a great teacher of musical truth”, Mussorgsky was able to go on it, referring to the still unseen depths of people’s lives. All his life he was looking for new ways in art, never satisfied with what he had found and always “threw good in search of something better”.


Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was born on March 9, 1839 in the village of Karevo, Toropets Uyezd, Pskov Governorate, Russian Empire, to the family of a landowner. The grandmother of the future composer was a serf peasant. Father Modest Petrovich served as an official, mother was the daughter of a poor landowner. A musically educated and gifted pianist, she was the first teacher of her son’s music.

The teacher of Modest was also a nanny, devoted and loving woman. Like Pushkin’s nanny, she knew many songs and fairy tales. It was her tales, recalled Mussorgsky, served as the main impetus to musical improvisations on the piano at a time when he had no idea of the most elementary rules for playing the piano. Memories of childhood are reflected by Mussorgsky in one of his early piano pieces and in some of the numbers of the vocal cycle “Children’s”. Unforgetably bright were the impressions of Russian folk songs and lamentations heard in their native village, from the rich and harsh nature of their native land.

Music Mussorgsky began to engage in five years and made rapid progress. In nine years, he has played in front of guests difficult concert Filda. His musical talent was noticed, but there was no question of the musician’s profession: in the landlord circle this occupation was considered unworthy of a nobleman. At the request of relatives, Modest was to become an officer, in due time and the other young men of their family.

In 1849, Mussorgsky and his elder brother were taken to Petersburg and given to the German Petropavlovsk school. At the same time, music was taught by the then-known teacher Anton Gerke. Then Mussorgsky entered the school guard sub-ensigns, after which he was enrolled in the Preobrazhensky Regiment. The first years of Mussorgsky’s independent life were no different from the lives of his friends in military service. He was a secular and quite frivolous lifestyle, partying, dancing at balls, dances willingly played and sang excerpts from operas by Italian fashion.

Soon important developments were the turning point in the life of Musorgsky. In 1857 he met first with Dargomyzhsky, and then with the young Balakirev. Then they began their musical studies and a close friendship. But the officer’s service is too time-consuming, distracting from a serious creative work. That’s why a year later Mussorgsky retiring and devoting himself entirely to music. However, to earn a living, he still had to serve as a petty official.

A lot of joy the young man finds in creative communication with the composers of the “Mighty Handful” – Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Alexander Borodin, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and also with the critic Vladimir Stasov . Friends gathered, played their works, discussed them. The soul of the society and the indisputable musical authority was in those years Balakirev.

In 1863, Mussorgsky became friends with advanced youth students and for some time lived in the “commune” with five other comrades. They read a lot together, discussed novelties, argued about the appointment of art and the events of social life. Such communes, which arose under the influence of Chernyshevsky’s novel “What to do?”, Were distributed in the 1960s among advanced, democratically minded young people and students.

In the early 60’s Mussorgsky was working on his first opera “Salammbo” based on Flaubert’s novel. In the grandiose folk scenes of this work, the composer’s individuality already manifests itself (the opera remained unfinished). In 1867 a symphonic painting “Ivan’s Night on Bald Mountain” was created in its first edition. Then there are wonderful songs on the words of Nekrasov – “Kalistrat”, “Lullaby Eremushka.” In 1868 Mussorgsky begins the opera “Marriage” on the text of Gogol’s comedy. And although only the first action was written, but the work was very important for the composer. Like Dargomyzhsky, he is looking for new means of musical expressiveness, trying to bring the musical speech closer to the living intonations of the human voice, colloquial speech.

All the power of Mussorgsky’s talent was revealed in the opera “Boris Godunov” after the tragedy of Pushkin. The opera was started in 1868.

The plot of “Boris” captured Mussorgsky. He lived in a continuous creative fire. The writing went very fast, and in 1869 the score of the opera in its first edition was already finished. Dargomyzhsky, who, shortly before his death, heard some scenes of “Boris”, enthusiastically welcomed them. Comrades in the Balakirev circle also took the opera hotly. However, the opera was not accepted for staging. The theater committee was outraged by Mussorgsky’s unbelievably bold plan.

The refusal made a heavy impression on the composer. Friends persuaded him to rework the opera. In the second edition, two Polish scenes with the role of Marina Mniszek were introduced and, in addition, the climax of the popular uprising, the so-called “scene under Kromy”, was composed. Friends Mussorgsky, especially Stasov and Rimsky-Korsakov, met the second edition of “Boris” enthusiastically. The second edition was completed in 1872. But it was only after a long and stubborn struggle for the production of February 8, 1874 that the premiere of the opera “Boris Godunov” was finally performed. The success was enormous.

The unrest and emotions associated with the production of “Boris Godunov” had a serious impact on the health of Modest Petrovich, and it was only through the sincere participation and support of friends that he drew strength to fight for his lofty ideals, for the truth in art. Of considerable importance was his friendship with Rimsky-Korsakov, who was especially strong in these difficult years. In 1871 they even settled together, worked in the same room, with one instrument. A huge role in the life of Mussorgsky was played by constant communication with Stasov. The composer often visited him, stayed at his dacha, his brother Dmitry Vasilyevich Stasov, spent a lot of time with the children of this friendly family. Meetings with the children, watching their lives inspired Mussorgsky to create the vocal cycle “Children’s”. In this song cycle, he with great sensitivity reflected the peculiar world of the children’s soul.

In the 70s, Mussorgsky again turned to Russian history. He was attracted by the events of the late 17th century – the Streltsi riots and the movement of the schismatics. This was the time of the acute struggle of the old boyar Rus against the reforms of young Peter I, who came to the throne. On Stasov’s advice, in 1872 Mussorgsky began to work on “Khovanshchina” opera. In the popular movement, the composer saw the manifestation of the strength and power of the Russian people, although the Streltsi riots of the late 17th century against Peter’s reforms and the protest of the schismatics did not have a progressive historical significance.

The opera “Khovanshchina” was dedicated to Vladimir Stasov, who helped Mussorgsky in his work and with advice, participation, and searching for necessary historical documents. Work on “Khovanshchina” took almost the entire last decade of the composer’s life.
Simultaneously, in 1874, Mussorgsky began to compose a comic opera based on Gogol’s story “The Fair at Sorochyntsi”. Her cheerful music is full of folk humor, light lyrics. It is widely used Ukrainian folk songs.

In 1874 Mussorgsky wrote another unique original work – a series of piano pieces “Pictures from an Exhibition” – under the impression of an exhibition of drawings by a talented artist and architect Viktor Hartmann.

The middle and late 70s were a difficult period in the life of Mussorgsky. Despite the success with the public, the opera “Boris Godunov” was rarely given, disfigured by abbreviations (bills). From the very beginning, the censorship did not miss the scenes in the Chudov Monastery, and later the rebellious scene at Kromy was banned. The social upsurge of the sixties, inspired by Russian artists, is replaced by a brutal reaction towards the end of the 1970s. Throughout his being, the sensitive and impressionable Mussorgsky felt the burden of reactionary oppression. In these years he often suffers from loneliness.

Circumstances developed in such a way that creative meetings of the “Mighty Handful” in those years ceased. A long, serious illness took Balakirev a lot from friends, from music. Borodin was carried away by the public enlightenment activity, abandoning even the work on the opera Prince Igor, and Rimsky-Korsakov, by that time a professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, devoted his time to studying the technical side of the composition. Mussorgsky, keen on the grandiose plot of “Khovanshchina”, all this seemed a betrayal of the great business of the New Russian School: “Mighty Handful” degenerated into soulless traitors, “he complained bitterly in a letter to Stasov.

Heavy experiences of this time were reflected in the gloomy cycle of romances “Without the Sun” and in the tragic “Songs and Dances of Death” (both cycles to the words of Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov). Mussorgsky’s brilliant work – the song-dance “Trepak” from the second cycle – is devoted to the bitter fate of a poor peasant who freezes at night in a blizzard.
In the last years of his life, Mussorgsky feels particularly lonely. With the loss of service came a real need. The composer’s health shook. The only bright beam was a trip to the south. In the summer of 1879, the famous Russian singer Darya Leonova invited Mussorgsky to perform a concert tour with her in the south of Russia as an accompanist. In these concerts Mussorgsky performed with his works, mostly excerpts from operas. The trip brought a lot of fresh impressions, and on his return he was full of new creative plans. However, with the beginning of 1881, his health deteriorated sharply. On February 14, a seriously ill composer was placed in a military hospital where on March 16 he died.

Rimsky-Korsakov completed the “Khovanshchina” not completely finished. Delivered in Moscow on Mamontov’s private opera stage, “Khovanshchina” was a huge success thanks to the brilliant performance of Dosifei’s party by the young Russian singer Feodor Chaliapin. In the same years, Feodor Shalyapin becomes an unsurpassed performer and the role of Boris Godunov.
Later, in 1917, the elderly César Cui finished and in his own way edited the opera “The Fair at Sorochyntsi”. The Soviet composer Vissarion Shebalin, who had graduated and talentedly orchestrated the “The Fair at Sorochyntsi”, was more attentive to this difficult task. It is in his editorial office that this opera is now staged.


In the Pushkin tragedy “Boris Godunov”, Mussorgsky was attracted by the opportunity to recreate in the opera the awakening of the strength of the people, which resulted in open dissatisfaction, and in the end into a spontaneous uprising.
The main idea of Mussorgsky’s opera, like that of Pushkin, is the conflict between the criminal Tsar Boris and the people, leading to an uprising. The tragedy is aggravated by the inner spiritual drama of Boris, the murderous king, the torments of his conscience. The composer’s attention was focused on revealing the main idea: the collision of the tsar and the people. The people in Mussorgsky’s opera are the main character.

Prologue. The first picture. In the courtyard of the Novodevichy Convent, a crowd is crowded, ordered by order of boyars to ask Boris Godunov to take “the throne and the hat of Monomakh” – to become a tsar. A small orchestral introduction depicts the image of the oppressed people. The mournful theme of the introduction is close to Russian folk songs:

"Boris Godunov" score

“Boris Godunov” score

It passes several times, overgrown with accompanying voices, it sounds more and more powerful and dynamic.

An important role in the music of the prologue is played by the theme of violence – a “trampled” tune, similar to the knocking of a club. “Quickly! On your knees!” – Cries the bailiff. People with weeping woefully lament: “To whom do you leave us, our father!” The intonational music of this choir is close to the theme of the introduction:

"Boris Godunov" score

“Boris Godunov” score

 In this lamentation stands the image of the very people – oppressed and hungry. By the elections of the new tsar, the peasants and the people of the towns are indifferent. Some of the replicas speak of inattention to what is happening: “Mitya, why are you shouting?”.

"Boris Godunov" score

“Boris Godunov” score

The first production of the opera "Boris Godunov". Prologue

The first production of the opera “Boris Godunov”. Prologue

The composer singles out individual voices of the choir, replicas of Mityukha and some women. The whole scene truly conveys the true attitude of the people towards what is happening. So, for example, the bailiff forces the people “not to regret the throat”. The answer of the choir groups reveals the general mood of the people: “Only we shall have a rest, we will shout again”, “Even a sigh will not give, damn”.

The original method of dismembering the choir into separate groups with the allocation of solo remarks was used by Mussorgsky as the first composer. The image of the human crowd turned out to be surprisingly real.

"Boris Godunov" score

“Boris Godunov” score

The culmination of the scene is the arioso of the Duma clerk. He reports of Boris’s refusal to enter the kingdom. The music of the arioso is sad and concentrated:

"Boris Godunov" score

“Boris Godunov” score

Emerging on the stage, the Kalíki perekhózhiye (pilgrims) agitate the people for the election of Boris Godunov: under the rule of the new tsar, the end of the Troubles and the absence of beznachaliyu in Russia will come. Kalíki perekhózhiye are removed.

The second picture. Square in the Moscow Kremlin. A powerful ringing of bells accompanies the wedding of Boris to the kingdom. The people on their knees are waiting for the new king to emerge. At the appearance of Boris Godunov, the people – on the orders of the boyar of Shuisky – glorify him:

"Boris Godunov" score

“Boris Godunov” score

But Boris is not joyful. His very first musical characteristic (arioso) reveals a spiritual discord, grave premonitions:

"Boris Godunov" score

“Boris Godunov” score

The same chorus of “Glory” the second picture ends. The theme of the choir is a folk majestic song, repeatedly used by Russian composers.

The first action. The first picture. Quiet cell in the Chudov Monastery. The humble chronicler Pimen is immersed in his work. For many years he chronicles all the historical events of the past and present.

Pimen’s Monologue opens the action. Majestic and concentrated music draws the image of a wise old man. A short introduction seems to convey a calm and even movement of the writing hand:

"Boris Godunov" (Pimen's Monologue) score

“Boris Godunov” (Pimen’s Monologue) score

In his monologue Pimen speaks of the duty of a historian-chronicler, who wants to convey the whole truth to his descendants. The musical characteristic of Pimen (leitmotif) will still be found in the opera:

"Boris Godunov" (Pimen's Monologue) score

“Boris Godunov” (Pimen’s Monologue) score

In the same picture for the first time appears the young novice Gregory. In the disturbing tale of the prophetic dream, his face is vividly depicted. The young man is ambitious, he dreams about worldly life, full of vicissitudes and unrest, about fame. Pimen’s story of a small Tsarevich Dimitry, killed in the Uglich monastery, the mention that he was the same age as Gregory, deeply worries Grigory. In the head a daring plan is born: to flee the monastery and impersonate the murdered prince. The theme of Tsarevich Dimitri in a somewhat expanded form later becomes the theme of the Impostor.

The second picture. Tavern on the Lithuanian border. Here, along with the runaway monks Varlaam and Misail, Grigory got there. The image of his companion, the wandering monk Varlaam – one of the most striking in the opera. Varlaam’s song “As in the city was in Kazan” (on folk words) tells not only about the history of the siege and the capture of Ivan the Terrible by Kazan with the help of a tunnel and a powder explosion. It also serves as a characteristic of Varlaam himself, a dashing and reckless one, who has nowhere to put his powerful strength and he spends it on drunken merriment and vagrancy:

Boris Godunov (song "As in the city was in Kazan") score

Boris Godunov (song “As in the city was in Kazan”) score

In form, the song is a symphonic variation on the unchanging theme of the people’s warehouse. Depending on the content of the lyrics, the melody sounds dashingly and cheerfully, sometimes more concentrated and slow (“Reeked the candle of wax of the ardent”), and sometimes dramatically. Each variation has its own texture of presentation, a bright and peculiar orchestration.

Meanwhile, Grigory asks the hostess of the inn about the road leading to the border. Suddenly there are bailiffs who are searching for the fugitive monk Grishka Otrepiev. Using the illiteracy of the guards, Grigory, reading the order aloud, names Barlaam instead of his own. However, the monk reveals his cunning. Fleeing, Grigory jumps out of the window and runs away. The whole scene is a wonderful example of Moussorgsky’s accurate and vividly expressive recitative, based on the living and characteristic intonations of the people’s speech.

The second action. The royal palace in the Kremlin Palace. Xenia, the daughter of Boris Godunov, tirelessly mourns the deceased fiancé, mourning him. Act of woeful lamentation opens action. In vain, the nurse (nurse) tries to distract her and sings a joke about the mosquito. Then the song turns into a fun game in a whip. Fyodor, the son of Boris Godunov, takes part in it. Boris appears. He carefully inquires about his son’s knowledge of science, sad about Xenia.

In this picture, the image of Boris is revealed even more fully and many-sided, in all its complexity and contradictions. After all, Boris is not only a criminal king, who at the cost of killing a child came to power. He is an intelligent and far-sighted ruler and, in addition, a loving father, attentive to his children. In the scene with the children, these features of his character are shown – tenderness towards his daughter and care for his son, his future (“What, Xenia …”, “And you, my son, what are you doing?”).

The monologue “I have reached the highest power” reveals the depth of the suffering of the criminal king.

Boris Godunov (The monologue "I have reached the highest power") score

Boris Godunov (The monologue “I have reached the highest power”) score

Majestic and severe melody of his aria:

Boris Godunov (The monologue "I have reached the highest power") score

Boris Godunov (The monologue “I have reached the highest power”) score

Gradually, in Boris’s mind, the idea arises about the inevitability of punishment for a committed crime. The broad melody of the aria is replaced by an agitated recitation. Mad nightmares rise in front of Boris:

Boris Godunov (The monologue "I have reached the highest power") score

Boris Godunov (The monologue “I have reached the highest power”) score

In the orchestra, the keynote of Boris’s nightmare sounds.

Enter the crafty courtier Shuisky, a representative of the hostile boyar opposition. He informs Boris of the appearance of an impostor, who named himself the name of the late Tsarevich Dimitri. Shocked Boris demands from Shuisky a detailed account of how the prince was killed many years ago. After his departure, the nightmarish visions of Boris Godunov are renewed with renewed vigor.

Third action. The first picture. In the room of Marina Mniszek, the daughter of the Sandomir governor, the girls glorify the beauty of the noble panna. Vanity Marina dreams of power, about the royal throne in Moscow. She understands the importance of the love of a daring young man who named himself the name of Tsarevich Dimitri. The music of this scene in the rhythm of the mazurka vividly contrasts the previous paintings with the characteristic predominance of the song sound.

The Jesuit of Rangoni is also interested in the conquest of the Moscow throne. In political interests, he wants to use the Impostor love for Marina. Insinuating persuasions and direct threats, he forces Marina to use her influence on Dimitry.

The second picture. Mniszek Castle in Sandomierz. Moonlight night at the fountain. The enamored Impostor awaits Marina in the garden. The cunning Jesuit Rangoni informs him that Marina will come to the garden and that she loves him.

To the sounds of the orchestra, guests come out of the house, dancing polonaise. Marina goes down to the garden behind them. The Impostor confesses to her in love Proud marina rejects the love of the “impertinent vagabond” And promises to answer his feelings only after he becomes king in Russia. The scene of the love duet at the fountain is surprisingly poetic and expressive.

The fourth action. The first picture. Square in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. A crowd of impoverished and hungry people wander in front of the cathedral. Mityuha tells how they cursed Grishka Otrepiev in the cathedral. Meanwhile, he approaches the troops just below Kromy and throws Godunov’s regiments. In the scene, the people’s growing discontent is clearly felt. The main character of this scene is the Fool for Christ . The deprived person is deeply afflicted, anticipating the misfortunes of his native land. His musical characteristic is based on the intonations of folk laments and lamentations. The Fool for Christ sings a melancholy song “A month goes by, a kitten cries”, darning its bast shoes and slightly swaying:

Boris Godunov (song "A month goes by, a kitten cries") score

Boris Godunov (song “A month goes by, a kitten cries”) score

Chanting a mocking song, The Fool for Christ is surrounded by boys. Deceit takes away a penny from him. The Fool for Christ cries plaintively. From the cathedral is shown the royal procession. The people are asking for bread. This choir begins very quietly, begging for bread, “Christ’s sake”, then grows into a tragic and terrible cry, in which all the inescapable torment of the hungry people:

Boris Godunov (...Bread, for Christ's sake!) score

Boris Godunov (…Bread, for Christ’s sake!) score

Tsar Boris asks why the Fool for Christ cries. He tells how his boys stole a penny, and asks: “I ask the Great Tsar to slaughter them, as you slaughtered the little prince.” With these words, the Fool for Christ expresses to Boris the true opinion of the people about him as a killer king. And the Blessed One refuses to pray for Boris, for “one can not pray for the king of Herod”.

Picture two. Palace of Facets in the Moscow Kremlin.

Alexander Pirogov in the role of opera "Boris Godunov"

Alexander Pirogov in the role of opera “Boris Godunov”

At a meeting of the Boyar Duma of the fleeing monk Grishka Otrepyev sentenced to death. Shuisky cautiously tells the boyars about the grave condition of Tsar Boris. Boris appears. He is delirious, he is haunted by nightmares. Waking up, he takes part in the meeting. It follows the story of the chronicler Pimen about a great miracle, as if it happened on the grave of Tsarevich Dimitri. Boris is painfully shocked. Falling on the hands of the boyars, he calls Prince Fedor, blesses him on the kingdom and dies in torment.

The third picture. Forest clearing near Kromy. The rebellious people lead the tied boyar Khrushchov and sings to him, mocking, the majestic song “Not a falcon is flying on the heights”. Mussorgsky used the Russian folk song “It’s not the hawk that got used to the quail”, changing only the text: here the people mock the boyar, revenge for all the humiliation. The voices of the vagrant monks Varlaam and Misail are heard, proclaiming death to the regicide, death to Boris.

The culmination of the picture – a mighty chorus of the insurgent people “Dismissed, the strength waxed, the daring is brave”, built on the intonations of remote, dashing songs. In it people rise in all their heroic strength and might. The music of the choir is imbued with a spontaneous impulse. The simultaneous entry of voices (in an imitative manner) further intensifies the sound.

A striking contrast is the middle part of the choir “Oh, you, power, silushka”, based on the cheerfully cheerful melody of the folk song “Play, My Bagpipe”:

Boris Godunov (The chorus: "Walk, develop, force young!") score

Boris Godunov (The chorus: “Walk, develop, force young!”) score

Then the main theme is returned. The dynamics of the choir gradually increases, the tempo accelerates. It seems that this powerful force will sweep away everything on its way.

To the sounds of the military fanfare, a Impostor with his retinue and army appears on his horse. The people join him. Crying The Fool for Christ , which predicts the grief of the Russian land and people, the opera ends:

Flow, flow, tear bitter,
Weep, weep, the Orthodox soul!
Soon the enemy will come and darkness will come,
The dark is dark, impenetrable.
Grief, grief of Russia!
Cry, cry, Russian people, hungry people! ..

“Boris Godunov” is a great work of Russian music. The creation of this folk musical drama, which deeply reveals the life of the Russian people, its historical destinies, was an important stage in the development of musical theater. Opera strikes not only the sensitivity of penetration into the situation of the distant historical era of the late 16th – early 17th century, but also the profound modernity of the revolutionary democratic idea of the people’s struggle against tsarism.


 In his songs, as well as in major works, Mussorgsky sought to reflect the life of the Russian people, his grief and need. An inexhaustible sadness is full of “Lullaby for Eremushka” on Nekrasov’s poetry. In the words of the introductory stanza, built on Russian songs, the whole fate of the poor man:

"Lullaby for Eremushka" score

“Lullaby for Eremushka” score

And the slow lulling, which is heard in the rhythm of this lullaby, only aggravates sadness. Only at the end of the lullaby does enlightenment come. So quiet and serene is the dream of a child who still does not know about his heavy share.

The heavy disenfranchised fate of a peasant child is also told in the song “Sirotka”- (“The Orphan”) on the composer’s own words. In it, Mussorgsky vividly depicted the image of a homeless little boy begging for alms from passers-by. Many of Mussorgsky’s songs, recreating various scenes from the life of the people, are written in his own words. These are, except for “Sirotka”- (“The Orphan”), “Svetik Savishna”- (“Darling Savishna”), “Ozornik”- (“Naughty”), “Seminarist”. Mussorgsky composed also light lyrical songs, such as “Po-nad Donom sad tsvetet”- (“A Garden by the Don Blooms”) on the words of Aleksey Koltsov. Some of his songs have a satirical character (“Goat”, “Classic”, “Rayok”).


“Pictures from the exhibition” were written by Mussorgsky under the impression of an exhibition of works by the artist Viktor Hartmann, a friend of the composer who suddenly died. The exhibition was organized in the spring of 1874 by Vladimir Stasov. Moussorgsky was carried away by thought – to convey visual impressions in musical images, and the work began to boil. Soon, in June 1874, “Pictures from the Exhibition” were finished.

This cycle of plays can be called a suite – the follow-up of ten independent pieces united by a common idea. Each play is a musical picture, reflecting the impression of Mussorgsky, inspired by this or that drawing of Viktor Hartmann. There are bright everyday pictures, and accurate sketches of human characters, and landscapes, and images of Russian fairy tales, epics. Individual miniatures contrast with each other in content and expressive means. At the same time, they are all connected by the theme of “Walking”, which opens the cycle, and then appears a few more times, as if leading the listener from one picture to another. Her intonation is heard in the last issue of the cycle.

"Pictures from the Exhibition" (Walking) score

“Pictures from the Exhibition” (Walking) score

“Walk” – a play of the Russian folk storehouse with characteristic song intonations. Throughout the cycle, under the influence of a change in mood, the nature of the music “Walking” also changes: it sounds at ease, fervently, then thoughtfully and sadly, even mysteriously.

The first picture is “The Gnome”. Hartmann’s drawing depicted nippers in the form of an awkward gnome. Mussorgsky endows the Dwarf with features of a human character, while preserving the appearance of a fantastic and bizarre creature. In this small play, deep suffering and despair are heard, and the angry gait of the gloomy gnome is shown in it.

In the second picture  – “Old Castle” – the composer poetically conveyed a night landscape and a quiet enchanted mood. Against the background of tonic organ point the plain, sad song of the medieval troubadour represented in Hartmann’s picture sounds. The song is replaced by the silent chords creating illusive and mysterious color.

"Pictures from the Exhibition" (Old Castle) score

“Pictures from the Exhibition” (Old Castle) score

The third picture – “The Tuileries Garden” – contrasts sharply with the previous plays. She depicts playing children in one of the parks of Paris. Everything is joyful and sunny in this music. Fast tempo, bizarre accents, mostly high register, major mode – well convey the animation and fun of the children’s game against the backdrop of a summer day.

The fourth picture is called “Cattle”, which means “Bydło” in Polish. In the figure of Hartmann, a peasant cart on high wheels, drawn by two dull oxen, is depicted. In music, people hear how tiredly the oxen step in, the cart slowly creaks.

And again character of music sharply changes: fervently and absurdly, seconds in the high register inattentively sound, alternating with chords, and all at prompt speed. The picture Hartmann’s was a sketch of costumes for the ballet “Trilby”. It depicts young students of the ballet school performing a characteristic dance. Dressed as chicks, they are still not completely freed from the shell. Hence the funny name of the miniature “Ballet of Unhatched Chicks”.

The play “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle” (Stasov’s comment: “Two Jews: Rich and Poor”) depicts the conversation of a rich man with a poor man. Here the principle of Mussorgsky was embodied: the character of a person can be expressed more precisely in music through speech intonations. And although there is no vocal part in this play, there are no words, in the piano sounds one can hear unmistakably the rude, arrogant voice of the rich man and the timid, humble, begging voice of the poor man. For the speech of the rich man, Moussorgsky found powerful intonations, whose decisive character is strengthened by a low register. The poor man’s speech is profoundly contrasting – quiet, tremulous, intermittent, in a high register.

In the picture “Limoges. The Market (The Great News)” a motley market crowd is drawn. The music is well conveyed by the composer with a different voice, cries, hustle and festive commotion of the southern seaside bazaar.

The miniature “Catacombs (Roman Tomb)” is written according to Hartmann’s drawing “Roman Catacombs”. There are chords, sometimes quiet and remote, as if echoes are lost in the depths of the labyrinth, then the ominous scream of an owl, sharp and clear, like the sudden ringing of a fallen drop … Listening to these long lasting chords, it is easy to imagine a cold twilight of a mysterious vault, not clear light of a lamp, patches of light on crude walls, a disturbing, vague presentiment.

Next picture – “The Hut on Hen’s Legs (Baba Yaga)” – draws a fairy-tale image of Baba-Yaga. The artist depicts a clock in the form of a fairy-tale hut. Moussorgsky rethought the image. In his music, not a beautiful toy hut, but her mistress, Baba Yaga, is embodied. Here she whistled and rushed in her mortar, chasing a pomel. From the play, it also wails with epic proportions, the Russian soul. No wonder the main theme of this picture echoes the music from the scene under Kromy in the opera “Boris Godunov”.

Even more kinship with Russian folk music, with images of epics felt in the last picture – “The Bogatyr Gates (In the Capital in Kiev)”. Mussorgsky wrote this play under the impression of Hartmann’s architectural sketch “The City Gate in Kiev”. Intonation and its harmonic language, music is close to Russian folk songs, and also reminds “Walk”. The character of the play is majestic, calm and solemn. Thus, the last picture, symbolizing the power of the native people, naturally completes the whole cycle.

"The Bogatyr Gates (In the Capital in Kiev)"

“The Bogatyr Gates (In the Capital in Kiev)”

“Pictures at an Exhibition” became one of the most popular works. The well-known French composer Maurice Ravel did an arrangement of them for the orchestra. Many pianists include this work in the programs of their concerts. One of the best performers of “Pictures at an Exhibition” is the Soviet pianist Sviatoslav Richter.
Mussorgsky is a genuinely folk composer who devoted his entire work to a story about the life, sorrows and hopes of the Russian people. By faith in his strength and power, the best pages of his music are imbued. Mussorgsky’s creative work was so original and innovative that it still has a strong influence on composers from different countries.

Sheet Music

You can find and download free scores of the composer:

4 thoughts on “Mussorgsky, Modest

  1. Daniella

    Greetings! Really helpful guidance on this article!

    It’s the little changes that make the biggest changes.
    Thanks a lot for sharing!

  2. james frazer mann

    Great post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m
    impressed! Extremely helpful information particularly the last
    part 🙂 I care for such info a lot. I was looking for this certain information for a
    very long time. Thank you and best of luck.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *