Mussorgsky was a composer who epitomized Russian Romanticism and the traits of his bohemian generation. Constantly battling against authority, alcoholism and depression, Mussorgsky typified the struggling artist, experiencing both public and critical acclaim, as well as an immense and fatal decline in his physical and mental state.
Balakirev once wrote of Mussorgsky: “Yes, Mussorgsky is little short of an idiot.”, Tchaikovsky called him “A hopeless case”, yet underneath the cynical, debauched and gravely afflicted persona, lay a musical genius greater than almost any other composer of his era. With works such as Boris Godunov and Pictures at an Exhibition, Mussorgsky tapped into a new, deeply personal Russian Nationalism. In addition, the former of the two pieces changed the face of Russian opera under Imperial Rule, both in subject matter and musicality – particularly its harmony. Ravel’s masterful orchestration of the Pictures (for solo piano), by giving the piece the scale and depth of the full modern orchestra, only served to enhance Mussorgsky’s reputation and standing among great composers.
Boris Godunov, Pictures at an Exhibition
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