Modest Musorgsky was one of the towering figures of nineteenth-century Russian music. Now, in this new volume in the Master Musicians series, David Brown gives us the first life-and-works study of Musorgsky to appear in English for over a half century. Indeed, this is the largest such study of Musorgsky to have appeared outside Russia.
Brown shows how Musorgsky, though essentially an amateur with no systematic training in composition, emerged in his first opera, Boris Godunov, as a supreme musical dramatist. Indeed, in this opera, and in certain of his piano pieces in Pictures at an Exhibition, Musorgsky produced some of the most startlingly novel music of the whole nineteenth century. He was also one of the most original of all song composers, with a prodigious gift for uncovering the emotional content of a text. As Brown illuminates Musorgsky's work, he also paints a detailed portrait of the composer's life. He describes how, unlike the systematic and disciplined Tchaikovsky, Musorgsky was a fitful composer. When the inspiration was upon him, he could apply himself with superhuman intensity, as he did when composing the initial version of Boris Godunov. Sadly, Musorgsky deteriorated in his final years, suffering periods of inner turmoil, when his alcoholism would be out of control. Finally, unemployed and all but destitute, he died at age forty-two. His failure to complete his two remaining operas, Khovanshchina and Sorochintsy Fair, Brown concludes, is one of music's greatest tragedies.
Written by one of the leading authorities on nineteenth-century Russian composers, Musorgsky is the finest available biography of this giant of Russian music.