Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was one of music’s great independent thinkers. He had little time for rules, regulations and conventions. Although he made a formal study of music composition, he was more interested in experimenting as he went along instead of adhering to a given set of laws. Interestingly enough, when we hear a piece of orchestral music by Mussorgsky, chances are we are hearing a work that was orchestrated by someone else. Pictures at an Exhibition, which is probably his most famous work, is almost always heard in the version orchestrated by Ravel (Mussorgsky actually wrote it for solo piano). Similarly, Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov is best known in the revised and orchestrated version by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Shostakovich also revised it). Mussorgsky was a member of a group of Russian composers known as ‘The Mighty Handful’ (also known as ‘The Five’), a group which was committed to cultivating a distinctly ‘Russian’ sound (Rimsky-Korsakov was another member). Mussorgsky was born a nobleman but lost most of his property (and therefore income) following the emancipation of the serfs in the early 1860s. To his credit, he was not resentful of this progressive social reform; on the contrary, his politics were decidedly left-leaning. Mussorgsky dealt with alcohol dependency for much of his life and died from the effects of chronic alcoholism.
© Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra