Son of a great landowner and descendent of the Smolensk princes Mussorgsky was given a perfect education with governesses, piano lessons and a wide general knowledge. As a young lieutenant in St. Petersburg, he frequented Glinka’s salons where he met Cui and Balakirev who gave him a few lessons in composition. He was drawn to music above all else and composed without ever having received any proper tuition in techniques. He read Berlioz’s theory on orchestration, which was found on his pillow the day he died.
Mussorgsky soon left the army to spend his days with young artists and intellectuals. Art, politics, religion and philosophy were his main interests. He was fascinated by the The Five, (Stassov, Borodin, Cui, Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov) and in 1867 he composed St John’s Night on the Bare Mountain. The modernity of the work caused great surprise.
Mussorgsky suffered from a fragile constitution. What with his critical lack of finance, epileptic fits and alcoholism, Mussorgsky was prey to doubt and depression, unable to finish his works. He began numerous works just to then leave them.
Based on freedom of form, Mussorgsky’s aesthetic offered pessimistic works inspired by the tales and legends of the country, sublimated by orchestral beauty and swept along by a luxuriant lyricism. Ignored during his lifetime, between naturalism and expressionism, the composer left behind a work tormented by nostalgia expressed in his melodies, symphonic works and magnificent operas, Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina.