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Classical Composers A-Z: Modest Mussorgsky

Peter Wintersgill outlines the life of Modest Mussorgsky, the composer of the opera Boris Godunov.

Born
21st March, 1839, in Karevo, Pskov, Northwest Russia.

Father
Landed gent.

Mother
Gave him piano lessons.

Childhood and Adolescence
Joined cadet school at 12, where he started drinking heavily. Joined the army at 17, left at 19.

Adult life
Met Balakirev, joined the Big Five. His income dropped following the liberation of the Serfs in 1861, when he took various minor jobs in the civil service.

He finished his opera Boris Godunov in 1869, his best-known work; in it he shows his sympathy with the serfs. He wrote his orchestral tone poem Night on the Bare Mountain in 1867, and his piano work Pictures at an Exhibition, later orchestrated by Ravel. Another opera, Kovaschina, was finished after his death by Rimsky-Korsakov. He also wrote many songs, some of which showed the rhythm of Russian speech.

His heavy drinking, which persisted throughout his life, caused increasing difficulty in concentration. He finally died in hospital in St. Petersburg on 28th March, 1881, aged 42 of delirium tremens.

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