Modest Mussorgsky

Born March 21, 1839 in Karevo, Russia
Died March 28, 1881 in St. Petersburg, Russia




Romantic 1820-1910


Pictures at an Exhibition, Songs and Dances of Death, Boris Godunov

Modest Mussorgsky


Modest Mussorgsky was one of the five Russian nationalist composers known as the “Russian Five.” He was born to a well-to-do landowner and began taking piano lessons from his mother around the age of six. By the time he was nine, he was playing so well that he began performing for family and friends. In 1852, Mussorgsky entered the Cadet School of the Guards in St. Petersburg . While at school, he showed interest in history and German philosophy, and he sang in the school choir. It was during his first year at school that he wrote Porte-enseigne Polka which he dedicated to his school friends.

In 1857, Mussorgsky left Cadet school and entered the Prebrazhensky Regiment of the Guards. A year later he convinced composer Balakirev to give him composition lessons, but in 1858, Mussorgsky suffered a nervous or spiritual crisis and left the guards to return home. He continued to compose but his music did not gain popularity.

Mussorgsky began working for the Russian government and completed the historic opera, Boris Godunov, which was at first rejected by theatres. At the same time that he was finishing Boris Godunov, Mussorgsky was working on a second opera Khovanshchina.

Through music, Mussorgsky wanted to portray life, however rough and beautiful.  When Mussorgsky died, however, he left many of his works unfinished. Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov took on the task of editing and publishing Mussorgsky’s music.