Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was born in Karevo, Pskov province, on March 21st, 1839. His family could be traced back through thirty-two generations to the Rurik, which is the first Russian dynasty (862). He wasnÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂt descended from any prestigious or royal family because by the 15th century, his family lost their title (Seroff, 3). His mother, who was an excellent pianist, gave him his first piano lessons. At age nine he played a Field concerto before an audience in his parents' house. In 1852 he entered the Guards' cadet school in St Petersburg. Although he had not studied harmony or composition, he tried to write an opera in 1856, which was the same year he entered the Guards. In 1857 he met DargomÃÂÃÂ¯zhsky and Cui, and through them Balakirev and Stasov. He persuaded Balakirev to give him lessons and thereupon composed songs and piano sonatas (M.R.Ho., 753).
ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ Around the year 1856, a group called The Mighty Handful was formed.
This group opposed the European-trained musicians. The leader of this nationalist group was Mili Balakiref (1837 - 1910). Cesar Cui (1835 - 1918) is also sometimes considered jointly with Balakiref to be their leader. Other members of the group were Alexander Borodin (1833 - 1887), Modest Mussorgsky, and Rimsky Korsakov. Mussorgsky was one that stood out in the group. Mussorgsky's commitment emerged primarily in opera. Concern for musical realism and sensitivity to broad social and moral issues appeared vividly in his songs of the 1860s, including "The Seminarian," "The Outcast," and "The Orphan Girl". These elements, however, gained cumulative power in his operas. In 1863-66 he set about adapting Gustave Flaubert's Salammbo, then turned to Nikolai Gogol's The Marriage, but completed neither. He started Boris Godunov in 1868. A first version was completed in 1869, but it was rejected by the Imperial Theaters because of its major break with operatic convention. Mussorgsky remodeled the score in 1871-72. This classic version was published in vocal score just before the opera's premiere in 1874. Mussorgsky was already writing Khovanshchina, another historical opera, and soon started the lighthearted Fair at Sorochinsk. (Rimsky-Korsakov completed Khovanshchina, along with editing and revising other works, including Boris Godunov; Cesar Cui.) The 1870s also produced the song cycles Sunless and Songs and Dances of Death, the tone poem A Night on Bald Mountain, and the piano cycle Pictures from an Exhibition (Brown).
One of Modest MussorgskyÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs closest companions was Victor Hartmann, an architect and occasional painter. Mussorgsky became friends with Hartman in 1870. Around 1873, Hartman passed away at age 39 of an aneurysm, which left Mussorgsky devastated. HartmanÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs death left Mussorgsky feeling guilty for not recognizing and acting on HartmanÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs fatal condition. Mussorgsky then began work on a composition in memory of him. The following year, an exhibition was organized in honor of Hartmann, and MussorgskyÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs visit to that show became the most famous gallery stroll of all time, Pictures at an Exhibition. The piano suite portrays ten of HartmannÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs images, with a recurring ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂPromenadeÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ theme to show the viewerÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs movement to each painting (Russ, 15).
ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ (Russ, p. 60) The first number in the piece is ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂGnomus.ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ This movement depicts an old wary gnome. Based on Hartmann's design for a Christmas tree nutcracker, the music depicts a grotesque little rascal creeping through a dark background, pausing, lunging suddenly from the shadows, and performing a mad, raging dance. In this movement, Mussorgsky turns the toy into a powerful, grotesque character. The music portrays the gnomeÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs tongue-tied leaps and strange expressions, which are cries of suffering, moans and pleas. ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂGnomusÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ is a continuous structure whose material is made up of variations and extensions of the opening phrase, and of the descending idea against a rising augmented fourth. At the center of the piece there is a graceful chromatic melody that takes the augmented fourth as its starting point. The opening phrase makes persistent returns throughout the piece as the gnome stumbles. This is considered one of the most harmonically interesting pieces in this work (Russ, p. 36).
(Russ, p. 60) The second piece is called ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂIl vecchio castelloÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ (The Old Castle). While studying architecture in Italy, Hartmann painted a watercolor of an unidentified medieval tower. A minstrel with a lute was sketched in before the gates, maybe to indicate the scale. The theme here has a meditative, depressing beauty. The performer must guard against monotony in this piece, because it can be the result from the continuous G# pedal, the continuous tonic cadences and the unremarkable harmony. The melodic line must ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂsingÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ and the rhythm must be present in the background. If there were a lack of contrast between sections in this piece, then it would sound weak.
(Russ, p. 60) Following this movement is another Promenade, which leads into the third movement. This movement is called ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂTuileriesÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ and it illustrates children playing and arguing in a Parisian park. Subtitled "Children Quarreling at Play", the music depicts a walk in the Tuileries Gardens of Paris, where nurses bring the children in their charge to play. Mussorgsky had a personality that had certain childish features to it because of his use of silly nicknames, his obsession with food and his fascination with fairy tales. Mussorgsky did have a tender regard for children, which is reflected in the music. The cries of the children are heard in the reiterated falling third figure. This movement is described as a rounded binary form (e.g. AB with a brief but clear return to the opening phrase at the end). In the middle section where the children take on a ridiculing attitude, it is not a strongly contrasted section so it smoothly recapitulates, but to a reworked theme of the beginning. (Russ, p. 39) (Russ, p. 60) The fourth movement is ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂBydloÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ and the painting is of a Polish oxcart driver and his team of oxen. Bydlo is a Polish word for cattle. This movement is characterized by thick, heavy left hand chords, representing the rumbling of the wheels and the stepping of the hooves. It is set against a folk-like melody sung by the cart drivers. The form is without a strong melodic or tonal contrast because the same accompaniment pattern continues throughout the central section and the coda breaks up the theme. The overall length of the piece is basically determined by the length of time it takes for the sound of the cart to die away into the distance. (Russ, p. 40) (Russ, p.60) The Promenade then reoccurs and following it is the ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂBallet of the Chicks in their Shells.ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ This movement is based on sketches Hartman drew out for a ballet with legs and heads of chickens extending from their shells. This is a costume design for the ballet Trilby, choreographed by Marius Petipa, with music by Julius Gerber. The ballet contains a scene in which children dance as chicks in their shells. Mussorgsky uses effective percussion-like high piano sounds to imitate the chicks tapping to break out of their shells and the little shriek as they burst out. Then there are difficult trills in ppp that depict their tiny, fluffy feathers as they stumble around. (Russ, p. 41-42) The sixth movement is Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle, which is based on the bickering and arguing between the pompous, rich Goldenberg and the feeble beggar Schmuyle. Hartmann's sketches depict a pair of Jews from Sandomir, in Poland; one richly dressed and the other in rags. Mussorgsky sets up a musical dialogue between the two. The rich man's theme is overbearing and arrogant, with grim overtones, oblivious of the poor man's wheedling entreaties. In this movement, Mussorgsky portrays speech rhythm between the two Jews. For example, Goldenberg speaks first in assertive way with a bit of an oriental style in the rhythmically detailed ornamentation and augmented intervals. He speaks slowly and clearly with a deep and powerful voice, pausing for breaths. Then, the poor Jew whines in a high voice with a triplet tremolo representing his teeth chattering or his body shaking. Gradually both themes merge, the rich man's theme drowning out the poor man's.
The last Promenade going into the ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂLimogesÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ is now played with a restatement of the beginning promenade but now with extra doubling adding to its ceremonial quality. The seventh movement is ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂLimoges: The Market.ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ This movement captures the hustle and bustle of the market place. The music recreates the activity portrayed by Hartmann's drawing of French women haggling and gossiping in a market. The most important features in this piece are the calls and shouts in which some of them are made up of the whole-tone material. (Russ, p. 45) CatacombsÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ is a slow series of deep, mournful chords that expresses this self-portrait of Hartmann and two other men exploring the old Roman catacombs in Paris. This movement has dissonant, unbalanced chords and uncertain tonality. The music modulates into a variation of the Promenade, over which the composer inscribed in the original manuscript Con mortuis in lingua mortua (With the dead in a dead language). There are even traces of ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂDies IraeÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ echoing in the beginning. This painting comes from HartmanÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs explorations of the tunnels under Paris. The portrait in the painting is actually a self-portrait (Russ, p. 46).
The ninth movement is called ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂThe Hut on FowlÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs Legs (Baba Yaga). This movement is about a witch from Russian folklore that lived in a hut that could move around on chicken legs. However, Mussorgsky's music begins with the wild flight of the witch's gun, the witch peering over the rim. She disappears into the forest, where the music changes momentarily to a slow, passage. The witch's hut is stalking through the dim woods on fowl's legs. Suddenly the witch flies forth again, careening through the air and into the final sketch. MussorgskyÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs setting, unlike HartmanÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs drawing, is made up of ornamentations. The central section, mixes diminished and augmented harmonies creating tonal uncertainty and atmosphere.
The last movement of this piece is ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂThe Great Gate at Kiev.ÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂ This piece captures the majesty and immensity of Hartmans proposed design for a massive new set of gates and the cityÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs entrance. This sketch was Hartmann's entry in a competition to design a great gate to commemorate Tsar Alexander II's amazing escape from an assassination attempt. The project was never carried through for lack of funds. The music, a variation on the Promenade, follows a grand and stately procession through the gate. This piece matches the grand scale of HartmanÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂs concept. The opening is played with power but not too much because that should be saved for the final ending of this movement. The opening processional tune is presented in three forms, which are just plainly played at first, then decorated with bells, and finally it is given a climatic triplet rhythm. In between there is one huge interlude of Russian bell sounds, which incorporates the opening Promenade theme.
Finally, we now come to Maurice Ravel, who is the master orchestrator. Mussorgsky's piano writing in the suite is as striking as can be, achieving mystery, emotion, humor, and majesty. It is a work that cries out for orchestral color, and several subsequent composers have been unable to resist the challenge. The first appears to have been the Russian Toushmalov, but the greatest arrangement is unquestionably Ravel's. A man who would spend hours interviewing instrumentalists to discover new possibilities, yet who had a talent for absorbing different styles, he was the perfect candidate to turn the piano suite into a concert-hall showpiece. In every movement, he selected accurately the right combination of instruments needed to duplicate Mussorgsky's original atmosphere, rising to a grand finale that leaves the listener feeling as if he had traveled to Kiev specifically to stand in front of that majestic, tragically nonexistent gate. (Kuenning) BIBLIOGRAPHY Brown, Malcolm. Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky. 17 Oct. 2003 .
David, Brown. Musorgsky: His Life and Works. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Emerson, Caryl. The Life of Mussorgsky. Cambrige, United Kingdom: Cambrige, University Press, 1999.
Ho., M R. "Modest Musorgsky." Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago, IL: William Benton, ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ ÃÂÃ 1983.
Kuenning, Geoff. Mussorgsky/Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition. 1999. 25 Nov. 2003 .
Mussorgsky/Ravel-Pictures at an Exhibition. Brighouse, West Yorkshire. 17 Oct. 2003 .
Russ, Michael. Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition. New York, NY: Cambrige, University Press, 1992.