(9 March/21 March (new style) 1839, Karevo - 16 March/28 March 1881, St. Petersburg)
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (also spelled Musorgsky or Moussorgsky) was a Russian Romantic composer and one of the group known as ”The Five”. He began studying piano from an early age (6 years) under the careful guidance of his mother, herself a trained pianist. By the age of 9 Mussorgsky was already performing John Field and Franz Liszt works.
Born in a wealthy family, his education was fully provided and so at the age of 10, he and his brother were taken to St. Petersburg to study at the elite German language Petrischule (St. Peter's School). Here he studied piano under the noted Anton Gerke. In 1852 Mussorgsky entered the School for Cadets of the Guard. There, in his first year he published a piano piece titled ”Porte-enseigne Polka” at his father's expense. In 1856 after he graduated from the Cadet School, followed the family tradition by joining the Preobrazhensky Regiment, the foremost regiment of the Russian Imperial Guard, where he made acquaintance of several music-loving officers. During this period he met Aleksandr Borodin, a fellow officer who later became an important Russian composer.
During the winter of 1856, he met the Russian composer Aleksandr Dargomyzhsky, at that time the most important Russian composer after Mikhail Glinka, the latter became an influence on Mussorgsky's musical tastes. Over the next two years at Dargomyzhsky's, Mussorgsky met several figures of importance in Russia's cultural life, among them Stasov, César Cui (a fellow officer), and Mily Balakirev which soon became his teacher. Having decided to devote himself to music, Modest Mussorgsky had quit the army three years earlier and since 1863 had been working as a civil servant in the Ministry of Communications. By this time, Mussorgsky had freed himself from the influence of Balakirev and was largely teaching himself.
Mussorgsky's artistic maturity was achieved in 1866 after composing a series of remarkable songs such as Darling Savishna, Hopak, and The Seminarist. Another work dating from this time is the symphonic poem Ivanova noch na Lysoy gore (1867; Night on Bald Mountain). He reached the peak of his conceptual powers in composition in 1868 after he composed the first song of the cycle Detskaya (The Nursery) and set the first 11 scenes of Nikolay Gogol's Zhenitba (The Marriage).
In December 1869 he completed his first version of his great work Boris Godunov but was rejected by the advisory committee of the imperial theaters because it lacked a prima donna role. In response, the composer subjected the opera to a thorough revision and in 1872 put the finishing touches to the second version (he had made changes that went beyond those requested by the theater), adding the roles of Marina and Rangoni as well as several new episodes. The first production of Boris took place on February 8, 1874, at St. Petersburg and was a success. The popular reaction in favor of Boris made this the peak of Mussorgsky's career.
The death of a dear friend of his, Victor Hartmann, inspired Mussorgsky to compose the piano suite Kartinki s vystavki (Pictures from an Exhibition, orchestrated in 1922 by the French composer Maurice Ravel). In his last few years of life, dominated by alcoholism and solitude, Mussorgsky managed to maintain his creative output. In addition to his Pictures from an Exhibition he also composed Sunless, the Khovanschina Prelude and began composing his opera Sorochinskaya yarmaraka (unfinished; Sorochintsy Fair), inspired by Gogol's tale.
Mussorgsky's musical style, although strikingly novel, was at its core Romantic and heavily rooted in Russian musical themes. While his output was relatively small, his impact (as an inspiration) on other Russian composers was quite out of proportion, including most notably Dmitri Shostakovich (in his late symphonies) and Sergei Prokofiev (in his operas). The 65 songs he composed, many to his own texts, describe scenes of Russian life with great vividness and insight and realistically reproduce the inflections of the spoken Russian language. His power of musical portrayal, his strong characterizations, and the importance he assigned to the role of the chorus establish Boris Godunov as a masterpiece. From a technical standpoint, Mussorgsky’s unorthodox use of tonality and harmony and his method of fusing arioso and recitative provide Boris Godunov with great dramatic intensity.
Although contemporary opinions of Modest Mussorgsky as a composer varied from positive to ambiguous to negative, he remains to this day an innovator (especially of Russian music).
Here you can find a complete list of Modest Mussorgsky's compositions.