02 April 2014, Wednesday
On March 21st we mark the 175th anniversary of the great composer Modest P. Mussorgsky, who reformed music art. Feodor I. Chaliapin wrote: "I hope that no one will blame me for patriotic pretension if I say that I consider Mussorgsky to be the greatest genius for the creation of realism in opera. Among those who came before or after him, Mussorgsky had no equal in terms of inspiration and creative genius. Words and sound fuse in his pieces; moreover, this fusion then coalesces with the reality". In our regular column "Invitation to the Museum" we publish rare materials that are housed at the Bolshoi Theatre Museum.
The composer was born on the Karaevo estate not far from the city Toropets (Pskov Governorate) into a modest land-owning family. He studied at the Cadet School of Guards in Saint Petersburg. In 1856 he was raised from the ranks and received a commission with the Preobrazhensky Regiment. In the second half of 1850s, influenced by Darzomyzhsky and especially Balakirev, Mussorgsky decided to devote himself to music. In 1858 he resigned his commission and started his music education. In 1863 together with a group of around him the composer organized the "commune", following the model of free comradely living together that was described by N.G. Chernyshevsky in his novel "What is to be Done?" In the second half of 1860s Mussorgsky communicated intensely with his "Mighty Five" colleagues: Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Cui.
Mussorgsky's creative work developed mostly in the sphere of vocal genres - opera, romance and song. Most romances described scenes from ordinary people's lives ("Kallistrat", "Sleep, Sleep, Peasant's Son", "Darling Savishna", "The Orphan", "Hopak" and others). Later he created vocal cycles that were more sophisticated in terms of content: "Sunless" (1847) and "Songs and Dances of Death" (1877). His instrumental heritage is not large and is limited to a few numbers. However, such pieces as the symphonic fantasy "The Night of the Bold Mountain" (1867) and the suite "Pictures at an Exhibition" (1874) are extremely popular.
His early operas were "SalammbГґ" (1863-1866) and "The Marriage" (1868). He then wrote the folk music dramas "Boris Godunov" and "Khovanshchina" (1869-1872), where he turned to the decisive moments of Russian history and portrayed peasants' revolts. Mussorgsky used cruel realism to show the contradictions of Russian reality in those times; he portrayed different aspects of ordinary people's lives, including all hardships, impenetrable misery, grief and the awakening of great protest forces. His art is humanistic. It was like a bell that called to fight for liberation of the people. "I want to create a nation: I dream of it, I think about it when I eat and it appears in front of me as I drink; one united big nation, not sugarcoated and with no gold-leaf". The composer was working on "Khovanshchina" for the last nine years of his life. He was working on the comic opera "The Fair at Sorochyntsi" simultaneously.
Mussorgsky is a master of the socio- psychological portrait. In his vocal music he uses the musical transformation of the people's vernacular, the melody of intonations and the rules of the Russian peasant song to show what his characters are. His music does not caress, it does not sing to sleep or delight, but rather demands complete concentration of physical and spiritual effort; sometimes it subdues; at the same time it unleashes such power and thrills such secret parts of one's soul that one hardly knew existed. This is the distinctive feature of his genius gift. In his letter to Stasov, Mussorgsky wrote: "The most subtle features of human nature and crowds of people; to investigate those little-investigated countries thoroughly and to conquer them - this is an artist's real passion".
Mussorgsky's creative career was not very successful in terms of official recognition. He was not surrounded by students, waiting for the wisdom of ultimate truth. On the contrary, others often tried to mentor him and blamed him for "dilettantism that is daring and self-conceit", as well as for "technical weakness". The last thing that this genius musician, who valued creative work as much as his own life, worried about, was immortalization of his creations. Perhaps, this is why many considered that what was left after Mussorgsky's sudden death was just a bunch of raw material, rather than a structured "artistic legacy". It took almost a century to understand: every note, which was written by the composer, is a part of the world that is as valuable as his personality was. Mussorgsky left people not material for a monument, but "the whole of himself". Mussorgsky's genius for innovative creative work influenced music in Russia and all over the world greatly.