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Sergei Prokofiev

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Sergei Prokofiev in New York, 1918

Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev (/prkfif, pro-, -k-, -ko-, -jf, -jv, -if/;[1][2][3] Russian:
, tr. Sergej Sergejevi Prokofjev;[n 1] 23 April 1891 5 March 1953) was
a Russian and Soviet composer, pianist and conductor. As the creator of acknowledged
masterpieces across numerous musical genres, he is regarded as one of the major composers of
the 20th century. His works include such widely heard works as the March from The Love for Three
Oranges, the suite Lieutenant Kij, the ballet Romeo and Juliet from which "Dance of the Knights"
is taken and Peter and the Wolf. Of the established forms and genres in which he worked, he
created excluding juvenilia seven completed operas, seven symphonies, eight ballets, five piano
concertos, two violin concertos, acello concerto, a Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra, and
nine completed piano sonatas.
A graduate of the St Petersburg Conservatory, Prokofiev initially made his name as an iconoclastic
composer-pianist, achieving notoriety with a series of ferociously dissonant and virtuosic works for
his instrument, including his first two piano concertos. In 1915 Prokofiev made a decisive break from
the standard composer-pianist category with his orchestral Scythian Suite, compiled from music
originally composed for a ballet commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes. Diaghilev
commissioned three further ballets from Prokofiev Chout,Le pas d'acier and The Prodigal Son
which at the time of their original production all caused a sensation among both critics and
colleagues. Prokofiev's greatest interest, however, was opera, and he composed several works in
that genre, including The Gambler andThe Fiery Angel. Prokofiev's one operatic success during his
lifetime was The Love for Three Oranges, composed for the Chicago Operaand subsequently
performed over the following decade in Europe and Russia.
After the Revolution, Prokofiev left Russia with the official blessing of the Soviet minister Anatoly
Lunacharsky, and resided in the United States, then Germany, then Paris, making his living as a
composer, pianist and conductor. During that time he married a Spanish singer, Carolina Codina,
with whom he had two sons. In the early 1930s, the Great Depression diminished opportunities for
Prokofiev's ballets and operas to be staged in America and western Europe. Prokofiev, who
regarded himself as composer foremost, resented the time taken by touring as a pianist, and
increasingly turned to Soviet Russia for commissions of new music; in 1936 he finally returned to his
homeland with his family. He enjoyed some success there notably with Lieutenant Kij, Peter and
the Wolf, Romeo and Juliet, and perhaps above all with Alexander Nevsky.
The Nazi invasion of the USSR spurred him to compose his most ambitious work, an operatic
version of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. In 1948 Prokofiev was criticized for "anti-
democratic formalism" and, with his income severely curtailed, was forced to compose Stalinist
works, such as On Guard for Peace. However, he also enjoyed personal and artistic support from a
new generation of Russian performers, notably Sviatoslav Richter and Mstislav Rostropovich: for the
latter, he composed his Symphony-Concerto, whilst for the former he composed his ninth piano



o 1.1Early childhood and first compositions

o 1.2Formal education and controversial early works

o 1.3The first ballets

o 1.4First World War and Revolution

o 1.5Life abroad

o 1.6First visits to the Soviet Union

o 1.7Return to Russia

o 1.8War years

o 1.9Post-war

o 1.10Death

2Posthumous reputation



5Honours and awards


o 6.1Autobiography and diaries

o 6.2Memoirs, essays, etc.

o 6.3Biographies
o 6.4Other monographs

o 6.5Dictionary articles

7Notes and references

8External links

Early childhood and first compositions[edit]
Prokofiev was born in 1891[n 2] in Sontsovka (now Krasne, Krasnoarmiisk Raion, Donetsk Oblast,
eastern Ukraine), a remote rural estate in the Yekaterinoslav Governorate of theRussian Empire.
His father, Sergei Alexeyevich Prokofiev, was an agronomist. Prokofiev's mother, Maria (ne
Zhitkova), came from a family of former serfs who had been owned by the Sheremetev family, under
whose patronage serf-children were taught theatre and arts from an early age. [6][7][8][9] She was
described by Reinhold Glire (Prokofiev's first composition teacher) as "a tall woman with beautiful,
clever eyes ... who knew how to create an atmosphere of warmth and simplicity about her." [10] After
their wedding in the summer of 1877, the Prokofievs had moved to a small estate in the Smolensk
governorate. Eventually Sergei Alexeyevich found employment as a soil engineer, employed by one
of his former fellow-students, Dmitri Sontsov, to whose estate in the Ukrainian steppes the
Prokofievs moved.[11]
By the time of Prokofiev's birth Maria, having previously lost two daughters, had devoted her life to
music; during her son's early childhood she spent two months a year in Moscow or St Petersburg
taking piano lessons.[12] Sergei Prokofiev was inspired by hearing his mother practicing the piano in
the evenings mostly works by Chopin andBeethoven and composed his first piano composition
at the age of five, an 'Indian Gallop', which was written down by his mother: this was in the F Lydian
mode (a major scale with a raised 4th scale degree) as the young Prokofiev felt 'reluctance to tackle
the black notes'.[13] By seven, he had also learned to play chess.[14] Much like music, chess would
remain a passion, and he became acquainted with world chess champions Jos Ral Capablanca,
whom he beat in a simultaneous exhibition match in 1914, and Mikhail Botvinnik, with whom he
played several matches in the 1930s.[15][n 3] At the age of nine he was composing his first opera, The
Giant,[17] as well as an overture and various other pieces.
Formal education and controversial early works[edit]
In 1902, Prokofiev's mother met Sergei Taneyev, director of the Moscow Conservatory, who initially
suggested that Prokofiev should start lessons in piano and composition withAlexander
Goldenweiser.[18] When Taneyev was unable to arrange this,[19] he instead organised that composer
and pianist Reinhold Glire should spend the summer of 1902 in Sontsovka teaching Prokofiev.
This first series of lessons culminated, at the 11-year-old Prokofiev's insistence, with the budding
composer making his first attempt to write a symphony.[20] The following summer Glire revisited
Sontsovka to give further tuition.[21] When decades later Prokofiev wrote about his lessons with
Glire, he gave due credit to his teacher's sympathetic method but complained that Glire had
introduced him to "square" phrase structure and conventional modulations which he subsequently
had to unlearn.[22] Nonetheless, equipped with the necessary theoretical tools, Prokofiev started
experimenting with dissonant harmonies and unusual time signatures in a series of short piano
pieces which he called "ditties" (after the so-called "song form" more accurately ternary form they
were based on), laying the basis for his own musical style.[23]
Despite his growing talent, Prokofiev's parents hesitated over starting their son on a musical career
at such an early age, and considered the possibility of his attending a quality high school in Moscow.
By 1904, his mother had decided instead on Saint Petersburg, and she and Prokofiev visited the
(then) capital to explore the possibility of their moving there for his education. [25] They were
introduced to composer Alexander Glazunov, a professor at the Conservatory, who asked to see
Prokofiev and his music; Glazunov was so impressed that he urged Prokofiev's mother that her son
apply to the Saint Petersburg Conservatory.[26] By this point, Prokofiev had composed two more
operas, Desert Islandsand The Feast during the Plague, and was working on his fourth, Undina.
He passed the introductory tests and entered the Conservatory that same year.[28]
Several years younger than most of his class, he was viewed as eccentric and arrogant, and he
annoyed a number of his classmates by keeping statistics on the errors made by fellow students.
During this period, he studied under, among others, Alexander Winkler for piano,[30] Anatoly
Lyadov for harmony and counterpoint, Nikolai Tcherepnin for conducting, and Nikolai Rimsky-
Korsakov for orchestration (though when Rimsky-Korsakov died in 1908, Prokofiev noted that he
had only studied with him "after a fashion" he was just one of many students in a heavily attended
classand regretted that he otherwise "never had the opportunity to study with him"). [31] He also
shared classes with the composers Boris Asafyev and Nikolai Myaskovsky, the latter becoming a
relatively close and lifelong friend.[32]
As a member of the Saint Petersburg music scene, Prokofiev developed a reputation as a musical
rebel, while getting praise for his original compositions, which he performed himself on the piano. [33]
In 1909, he graduated from his class in composition with unimpressive marks. He continued at the
Conservatory, studying piano under Anna Yesipovaand continuing his conducting lessons under
In 1910, Prokofiev's father died and Sergei's financial support ceased. [36] Fortunately he had started
making a name for himself as a composer and pianist outside the Conservatory, making
appearances at the St Petersburg Evenings of Contemporary Music. There he performed several of
his more adventurous piano works, such as his highlychromatic and dissonant Etudes, Op. 2 (1909).
His performance of this impressed the organizers of Evenings sufficiently for them to invite Prokofiev
to give the Russian premiere of Arnold Schoenberg's Drei Klavierstcke, Op. 11.[37] Prokofiev's
harmonic experimentation continued with Sarcasms for piano, Op. 17 (1912), which makes
extensive use ofpolytonality.[38] He composed his first two piano concertos around this time, the latter
of which caused a scandal at its premiere (23 August 1913, Pavlovsk). According to one account, the
audience left the hall with exclamations of "'To hell with this futuristic music! The cats on the roof
make better music!'", but the modernists were in rapture.[39]
In 1911, help arrived from renowned Russian musicologist and critic Alexander Ossovsky, who wrote
a supportive letter to music publisher Boris P. Jurgenson (son of publishing-firm founder Peter
Jurgenson [18361904]); thus a contract was offered to the composer.[40] Prokofiev made his first
foreign trip in 1913, travelling to Paris and London where he first encountered Sergei
Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.[41]
The first ballets[edit]
Prokofiev as drawn byHenri Matisse for the premiere of Chout (1921)

In 1914, Prokofiev finished his career at the Conservatory by entering the so-called 'battle of the
pianos', a competition open to the five best piano students for which the prize was a Schreder grand
piano: Prokofiev won by performing his own Piano Concerto No. 1.[42] Soon afterwards, he journeyed
to London where he made contact with the impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Diaghilev commissioned
Prokofiev's first ballet, Ala and Lolli; but when Prokofiev brought the work in progress to him in Italy
in 1915 he rejected it as "non-Russian".[43] Urging Prokofiev to write "music that was national in
character",[44] Diaghilev then commissioned the ballet Chout (The Fool, the original Russian-language
full title was , (Skazka pro shuta, semerykh
shutov pereshutivshavo), meaning "The Tale of the Buffoon who Outwits Seven Other Buffoons").
Under Diaghilev's guidance, Prokofiev chose his subject from a collection of folktales by the
ethnographer Alexander Afanasyev;[45] the story, concerning a buffoon and a series of confidence
tricks, had been previously suggested to Diaghilev by Igor Stravinsky as a possible subject for a
ballet, and Diaghilev and his choreographer Lonide Massine helped Prokofiev to shape this into a
ballet scenario.[46]Prokofiev's inexperience with ballet led him to revise the work extensively in the
1920s, following Diaghilev's detailed critique,[47] prior to its first production.[48] The ballet's premiere in
Paris on 17 May 1921 was a huge success and was greeted with great admiration by an audience
that included Jean Cocteau, Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel. Stravinsky called the ballet "the
single piece of modern music he could listen to with pleasure," while Ravel called it "a work of
First World War and Revolution[edit]
During World War I, Prokofiev returned to the Conservatory and studied organ in order to
avoid conscription. He composed The Gambler based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel of the same
name, but rehearsals were plagued by problems and the scheduled 1917 premire had to be
canceled because of the February Revolution. In the summer of that year, Prokofiev composed
his first symphony, the Classical. This was his own name for the symphony, which was written in the
style that, according to Prokofiev, Joseph Haydnwould have used if he had been alive at the time.
It is more or less Classical in style but incorporates more modern musical elements
(see Neoclassicism). This symphony was also an exact contemporary of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto
No. 1 in D major, Op. 19, which was scheduled to premiere in November 1917. The first
performances of both works had to wait until 21 April 1918 and 18 October 1923, respectively. He
stayed briefly with his mother in Kislovodsk in the Caucasus. After completing the score of Seven,
They Are Seven, a "Chaldean invocation" for chorus and orchestra,[51] Prokofiev was "left with nothing
to do and time hung heavily on my hands". Believing that Russia "had no use for music at the
moment", Prokofiev decided to try his fortunes in America until the turmoil in his homeland had
passed. He set out for Moscow and Petersburg in March 1918 to sort out financial matters and to
arrange for his passport.[52] In May he headed for the USA, having obtained official permission to do
so from Anatoly Lunacharsky, the People's Commissar for Education, who told him: "You are a
revolutionary in music, we are revolutionaries in life. We ought to work together. But if you want to go
to America I shall not stand in your way."[53]
Life abroad[edit]

Sergei Prokofiev (c. 1918)

Arriving in San Francisco after having been released from questioning by immigration officials
on Angel Island on 11 August 1918,[54] Prokofiev was soon compared to other famous Russian exiles
(such as Sergei Rachmaninoff). His debut solo concert in New York led to several further
engagements. He also received a contract from the music director of the Chicago Opera
Association, Cleofonte Campanini, for the production of his new opera The Love for Three Oranges;
however, due to Campanini's illness and death, the premiere was postponed. [56] This delay was
another example of Prokofiev's bad luck in operatic matters. The failure also cost him his American
solo career, since the opera took too much time and effort. He soon found himself in financial
difficulties, and, in April 1920, he left for Paris, not wanting to return to Russia as a failure. [57]
In Paris Prokofiev reaffirmed his contacts with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.[58] He also completed some
of his older, unfinished works, such as theThird Piano Concerto.[59] The Love for Three
Oranges finally premired in Chicago, under the composer's baton, on 30 December 1921.
Diaghilev became sufficiently interested in the opera to request Prokofiev play the vocal score to
him in June 1922, while they were both in Paris for a revival of Chout, so he could consider it for a
possible production.[61] Stravinsky, who was present at the audition, refused to listen to more than the
first act.[61] When he then accused Prokofiev of "wasting time composing operas", Prokofiev retorted
that Stravinsky "was in no position to lay down a general artistic direction, since he is himself not
immune to error".[62] According to Prokofiev, Stravinsky "became incandescent with rage" and "we
almost came to blows and were separated only with difficulty". [62] As a result, "our relations became
strained and for several years Stravinsky's attitude toward me was critical." [61]
In March 1922, Prokofiev moved with his mother to the town of Ettal in the Bavarian Alps, where for
over a year he concentrated on an opera project, The Fiery Angel, based on the novel by Valery
Bryusov. By this time his later music had acquired a following in Russia, and he received invitations
to return there, but he decided to stay in Europe. In 1923, Prokofiev married the Spanish singer
Carolina Codina (18971989, whose stage name was Lina Llubera) [63]before moving back to Paris.[64]
In Paris, several of his works (for example the Second Symphony) were performed, but the
audiences' reception was now lukewarm and Prokofiev sensed that he "was evidently no longer a
sensation".[65] However the Symphony appeared to prompt Diaghilev to commission Le pas
d'acier (The Steel Step), a 'modernist' ballet score intended to portray the industrialisation of the
Soviet Union. It was enthusiastically received by Parisian audiences and critics. [66]
In around 1924, Prokofiev was introduced to Christian Science.[67] He began to practice its teachings,
which he believed to be beneficial to his health and to his fiery temperament, [68] and to which,
according to biographer Simon Morrison, he remained faithful for the rest of his life.[69]
Prokofiev and Stravinsky restored their friendship, though Prokofiev particularly disliked Stravinsky's
"stylization of Bach" in such recent works as the Octet and the Concerto for Piano and Wind
Instruments.[70][n 4] However, Stravinsky himself described Prokofiev as the greatest Russian composer
of his day, after himself.[72]
First visits to the Soviet Union[edit]
In 1927, Prokofiev made his first concert tour in the Soviet Union.[73] Over the course of more than
two months, he spent time in Moscow and Leningrad (as Saint Petersburg had been renamed),
where he enjoyed a very successful staging of The Love for Three Oranges in the Mariinsky Theatre.
In 1928, Prokofiev completed his Third Symphony, which was broadly based on his unperformed
opera The Fiery Angel. The conductor Serge Koussevitzky characterized the Third as "the greatest
symphony since Tchaikovsky'sSixth."[75]
In the meantime, however, Prokofiev, under the influence of the teachings of Christian Science, had
turned against the expressionist style and the subject matter of The Fiery Angel.[76] He now preferred
what he called a "new simplicity", which he believed more sincere than the "contrivances and
complexities" of so much modern music of the 1920s. [77][n 5] During 192829, Prokofiev composed
what was to be the last ballet for Diaghilev, The Prodigal Son. When first staged in Paris on 21 May
1929, with Serge Lifar in the title role, both audience and critics were particularly struck by the final
scene in which the prodigal son drags himself across the stage upon his knees to be welcomed by
his father.[79] Diaghilev had recognised that in the music to this scene, Prokofiev had "never been
more clear, more simple, more melodious, and more tender." [80] Only months later, Diaghilev was
That summer, Prokofiev completed the Divertimento, Op. 43 (which he had started in 1925) and
revised his Sinfonietta, Op. 5/48, a work started in his days at the Conservatory.[82][n 6] In October that
year, he had a car crash while driving his family back to Paris from their holiday: as the car turned
over, Prokofiev pulled some muscles on his left hand.[83] Prokofiev was therefore unable to perform in
Moscow during his tour shortly after the accident, but he was able to enjoy watching performances of
his music from the audience.[84] Prokofiev also attended the Bolshoi Theatre's "audition" of his
ballet Le pas d'acier, and was interrogated by members of the Russian Association of Proletarian
Musicians (RAPM) about the work: he was asked whether the factory portrayed "a capitalist factory,
where the worker is a slave, or a Soviet factory, where the worker is the master? If it is a Soviet
factory, when and where did Prokofiev examine it, since from 1918 to the present he has been living
abroad and came here for the first time in 1927 for two weeks [sic]?" Prokofiev replied, "That
concerns politics, not music, and therefore I won't answer." The RAPM condemned the ballet as a
"flat and vulgar anti-Soviet anecdote, a counter-revolutionary composition bordering on Fascism".
The Bolshoi had no option but to reject the ballet.[85]
With his left hand healed, Prokofiev toured the United States successfully at the start of 1930,
propped up by his recent European success.[86] That year Prokofiev began his first non-Diaghilev
ballet On the Dnieper, Op. 51, a work commissioned by Serge Lifar, who had been appointed maitre
de ballet at the Paris Opra.[87] In 1931 and 1932, he completed his fourth and fifth piano concertos.
The following year saw the completion of the Symphonic Song, Op. 57, which Prokofiev's friend
Myaskovsky thinking of its potential audience in the Soviet Union told him "isn't quite for us ... it
lacks that which we mean by monumentalism a familiar simplicity and broad contours, of which
you are extremely capable, but temporarily are carefully avoiding." [88]
By the early 1930s, both Europe and America were suffering from the Great Depression, which
inhibited both new opera and ballet productions, though audiences for Prokofiev's appearances as a
pianist werein Europe at leastundiminished.[89] However Prokofiev, who saw himself as a
composer first and foremost, increasingly resented the amount of time that was lost to composition
through his appearances as a pianist.[90] Having been homesick for some time, Prokofiev began to
build substantial bridges with the Soviet Union. Following the dissolution of the RAPM in 1932, he
acted increasingly as a musical ambassador between his homeland and western Europe, [91] and his
premieres and commissions were increasingly under the auspices of the Soviet Union. One such
was Lieutenant Kij, which was commissioned as the score to a Soviet film.[92] Another commission,
from the Kirov Theatre (as the Mariinsky had now been renamed) in Leningrad, was the
ballet Romeo and Juliet, composed to a scenario created by Adrian Piotrovsky and Sergei Radlov
following the precepts of "drambalet" (dramatised ballet, officially promoted at the Kirov to replace
works based primarily on choreographic display and innovation). [93] Following Radlov's acrimonious
resignation from the Kirov in June 1934, a new agreement was signed with the Bolshoi Theatre in
Moscow on the understanding that Piotrovsky would remain involved. [94] However, the ballet's original
happy ending (contrary to Shakespeare) provoked controversy among Soviet cultural officials;[95] the
ballet's production was then postponed indefinitely when the staff of the Bolshoi was overhauled at
the behest of the chairman of the Committee on Arts Affairs,Platon Kerzhentsev.[96] Nikolai
Myaskovsky, one of his closest friends, mentioned in a number of letters how he would like Prokofiev
to stay in Russia. [97]
Return to Russia[edit]
In 1936, Prokofiev and his family settled permanently in Moscow.[98] In that year he composed one of
his most famous works, Peter and the Wolf, for Natalya Sats's Central Children's Theatre.[99] Sats
also persuaded Prokofiev to write two songs for children "Sweet Song", and "Chatterbox"; [100] these
were eventually joined by "The Little Pigs", published as Three Children's Songs, Op. 68.
Prokofiev also composed the gigantic Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October
Revolution, originally intended for performance during the anniversary year but effectively blocked by
Kerzhentsev, who demanded at the work's audition before the Committee on Arts Affairs, "Just what
do you think you're doing, Sergey Sergeyevich, taking texts that belong to the people and setting
them to such incomprehensible music?"[102] The Cantata had to wait until 5 April 1966 for a partial
premiere (just over 13 years after the composer's death). [103]
Forced to adapt to the new circumstances (whatever misgivings he had about them in private),
Prokofiev wrote a series of "mass songs" (Opp. 66, 79, 89), using the lyrics of officially approved
Soviet poets. In 1938, Prokofiev collaborated with Eisenstein on the historical epic Alexander
Nevsky. For this he composed some of his most inventive and dramatic music. Although the film had
a very poor sound recording, Prokofiev adapted much of his score into a large-
scale cantata for mezzo-soprano, orchestra and chorus, which was extensively performed and
recorded. In the wake of Alexander Nevsky's success, Prokofiev composed his first Soviet
opera Semyon Kotko, which was intended to be produced by the director Vsevolod Meyerhold.
However the premire of the opera was postponed because Meyerhold was arrested on 20 June
1939 by the NKVD (Joseph Stalin's Secret Police), and shot on 2 February 1940.[104] Only months
after Meyerhold's arrest, Prokofiev was 'invited' to compose Zdravitsa (literally translated 'Cheers!',
but more often given the English title Hail to Stalin) (Op. 85) to celebrate Joseph Stalin's 60th
Later in 1939, Prokofiev composed his Piano Sonatas Nos. 6, 7, and 8, Opp. 8284, widely known
today as the "War Sonatas." Premiered respectively by Prokofiev (No. 6: 8 April 1940), [106] Sviatoslav
Richter (No. 7: Moscow, 18 January 1943) and Emil Gilels (No. 8: Moscow, 30 December 1944),
they were subsequently championed in particular by Richter. Biographer Daniel Jaff argued that
Prokofiev, "having forced himself to compose a cheerful evocation of the nirvana Stalin wanted
everyone to believe he had created" (i.e. in Zdravitsa) then subsequently, in these three sonatas,
"expressed his true feelings".[108] As evidence of this, Jaff has pointed out that the central movement
of Sonata No. 7 opens with a theme based on a Robert Schumann lied, 'Wehmut' ('Sadness', which
appears in Schumann's Liederkreis, Op. 39): the words to this translate "I can sometimes sing as if I
were glad, yet secretly tears well and so free my heart. Nightingales ... sing their song of longing
from their dungeon's depth ... everyone delights, yet no one feels the pain, the deep sorrow in the
song."[109] Ironically (because, it appears, no one had noticed his allusion) Sonata No. 7 received
a Stalin Prize (Second Class), and No. 8 a Stalin Prize First Class. [107]
In the meantime, Romeo and Juliet was finally staged by the Kirov ballet, choreographed by Leonid
Lavrovsky, on 11 January 1940.[110] To the surprise of all its participants, the dancers having struggled
to cope with the music's syncopated rhythms and almost having boycotted the production, the ballet
was an instant success,[111] and became recognised as the crowning achievement of Soviet dramatic
War years[edit]

Prokofiev and his second wife, Mira Mendelson

Prokofiev had been considering making an opera out of Leo Tolstoy's epic novel War and Peace,
when news of the German invasion of Russia on 22 June 1941 made the subject seem all the more
timely. Prokofiev took two years to compose his original version of War and Peace. Because of the
war he was evacuated together with a large number of other artists, initially to the Caucasus where
he composed his Second String Quartet. By this time his relationship with the 25-year-old writer and
librettist Mira Mendelson (19151968) had finally led to his separation from his wife Lina, although
they were never technically divorced: indeed Prokofiev had tried to persuade Lina and their sons to
accompany him as evacuees out of Moscow, but Lina opted to stay.[113]
During the war years, restrictions on style and the demand that composers should write in a 'socialist
realist' style were slackened, and Prokofiev was generally able to compose in his own way.
The Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 80, The Year 1941, Op. 90, and the Ballade for the Boy Who
Remained Unknown, Op. 93 all came from this period. In 1943 Prokofiev joined Eisenstein in Alma-
Ata, the largest city in Kazakhstan, to compose more film music (Ivan the Terrible), and the
ballet Cinderella (Op. 87), one of his most melodious and celebrated compositions. Early that year
he also played excerpts from War and Peace to members of the Bolshoi Theatre collective.
However, the Soviet government had opinions about the opera which resulted in many revisions.
In 1944, Prokofiev spent time at a composer's colony outside Moscow in order to compose
hisFifth Symphony (Op. 100). Prokofiev conducted its first performance on 13 January 1945, just a
fortnight after the triumphant premieres on 30 December 1944 of his Eighth Piano Sonata and, on
the same day, the first part of Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible. With the premiere of his Fifth Symphony,
which was programmed alongside Peter and the Wolf and the Classical Symphony (these conducted
by Nikolai Anosov), Prokofiev appeared to reach the peak of his celebrity as a leading composer of
the Soviet Union.[116] Shortly afterwards, he suffered a concussion after a fall due to chronic high
blood pressure.[117] He never fully recovered from this injury, and was forced on medical advice to
restrict his composing activity.[118]

Sergei Prokofiev with Mstislav Rostropovich

Prokofiev had time to write his postwar Sixth Symphony and his Ninth Piano Sonata (for Sviatoslav
Richter) before the so-called "Zhdanov Decree". In early 1948, following a meeting of Soviet
composers convened by Andrei Zhdanov, the Politburo issued a resolution denouncing
Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Myaskovsky, and Khachaturian of the crime of "formalism",
described as a "renunciation of the basic principles of classical music" in favour of "muddled, nerve-
racking" sounds that "turned music into cacophony".[119] Eight of Prokofiev's works were banned from
performance: The Year 1941, Ode to the End of the War, Festive Poem, Cantata for the Thirtieth
Anniversary of October, Ballad of an Unknown Boy, the 1934 piano cycle Thoughts, and Piano
Sonatas Nos 6 and 8.[120] Such was the perceived threat behind the banning of these works that even
works that had avoided censure were no longer programmed:[121] by August 1948, Prokofiev was in
severe financial straits, his personal debt amounting to 180,000 rubles. [120]
Meanwhile, on 20 February 1948, Prokofiev's wife Lina was arrested for 'espionage', as she had
tried to send money to her mother in Spain. After nine months of interrogation, [122] she was sentenced
by a three-member Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR to 20 years of hard labour.
She was eventually released after Stalin's death in 1953 and in 1974 left the Soviet Union. [124]
Prokofiev's latest opera projects, among them his desperate attempt to appease the cultural
authorities, The Story of a Real Man, were quickly cancelled by the Kirov Theatre.[125] This snub, in
combination with his declining health, caused Prokofiev progressively to withdraw from public life
and from various activities, even his beloved chess, and increasingly he devoted himself exclusively
to his own work.[126][127] After a serious relapse in 1949, his doctors ordered him to limit his activities,
limiting him to composing for only an hour a day.[128]
In spring 1949 he wrote his Cello Sonata in C, Op. 119, for the 22-year-old Mstislav Rostropovich,
who gave the first performance in 1950, with Sviatoslav Richter.[129] For Rostropovich, Prokofiev also
extensively recomposed his Cello Concerto, transforming it into a Symphony-Concerto, his last
major masterpiece and a landmark in the cello and orchestra repertory today.[130] The last public
performance he attended was the premire of the Seventh Symphony in 1952.[131] The music was
written for the Children's Radio Division.[132]
Grave of Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev

Prokofiev died at the age of 61 on 5 March 1953, the same day as Joseph Stalin. He had lived
near Red Square, and for three days the throngs gathered to mourn Stalin, making it impossible to
carry Prokofiev's body out for the funeral service at the headquarters of the Soviet Composers'
Union. He is buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.[133] He was an atheist.[134][135]
The leading Soviet musical periodical reported Prokofiev's death as a brief item on page 116. The
first 115 pages were devoted to the death of Stalin. Usually Prokofiev's death is attributed to cerebral
hemorrhage. He had been chronically ill for the prior eight years; [136] the precise nature of Prokofiev's
terminal illness remains uncertain.
Lina Prokofiev outlived her estranged husband by many years, dying in London in early 1989.
Royalties from her late husband's music provided her with a modest income, and she acted as
storyteller for a recording of her husband's Peter and the Wolf (currently released on CD by Chandos
Records[137]) with Neeme Jrvi conducting the Scottish National Orchestra. Their sons Sviatoslav
(19242010), an architect, and Oleg (19281998), an artist, painter, sculptor and poet, dedicated a
large part of their lives to the promotion of their father's life and work.[138][139]

Posthumous reputation[edit]

A Soviet stamp marking Prokofiev's centenary in 1991

Arthur Honegger proclaimed that Prokofiev would "remain for us the greatest figure of contemporary
music,"[140] and the American scholar Richard Taruskin has recognised Prokofiev's "gift, virtually
unparalleled among 20th-century composers, for writing distinctively original diatonic
melodies."[141] Yet for some time Prokofiev's reputation in the West suffered as a result of cold-war
antipathies,[142] and his music has never won from Western academics and critics the kind of esteem
currently enjoyed by Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg, composers purported to have a greater
influence on a younger generation of musicians.[143]
Today Prokofiev may well be the most popular composer of 20th-century music.[144] His orchestral
music alone is played more frequently in the United States than that of any other composer of the
last hundred years, save Richard Strauss,[145] while his operas, ballets, chamber works, and piano
music appear regularly throughout the major concert halls world-wide.
The composer received honours in his native Donetsk Oblast, when the Donetsk International
Airport was renamed to be "Donetsk Sergey Prokofiev International Airport," and when the Donetsk
Musical and Pedagogical Institute was renamed in 1988 to "S.S. Prokofiev State Music Academy of

Main article: List of compositions by Sergei Prokofiev
Important works include (in chronological order):

Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat major, op. 10

Toccata in D minor, Op. 11, for piano

Piano Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 14

Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16

Sarcasms, Op. 17, for piano

Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19

Scythian Suite, Op. 20, suite for orchestra

Chout, Op. 21, ballet in six scenes

Visions fugitives, Op. 22, set of twenty piano pieces

The Gambler, Op. 24, opera in four acts

Symphony No. 1 in D major Classical, Op. 25, an early neo-classical composition

Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26

The Love for Three Oranges, Op. 33, opera in four acts, includes the famous March from the
Love for Three Oranges

Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34, for clarinet and piano quintet

Quintet, Op. 39, for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, and double-bass

The Fiery Angel, Op. 37, opera in five acts

Symphony No. 2 in D minor, Op. 40

Le pas d'acier, ballet in two scenes, Op. 41

Divertimento, Op. 43

Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 44

The Prodigal Son, Op. 46, ballet in three scenes

Symphony No. 4 in C major, Op. 47 (revised as Op. 112)

Sinfonietta, Op. 5/48

Four Portraits from The Gambler, Op. 49

String Quartet No. 1 in B minor, Op. 50

Symphonic Song, Op. 57

Lieutenant Kije, Op. 60, suite for orchestra, includes the famous Troika

Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63

Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64, ballet in four acts, contains the famous "Dance of the Knights"

Orchestral suites extracted from Romeo and Juliet:

Suite No. 1 from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64bis

Suite No. 2 from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64ter

Suite No. 3 from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 101

Ten Pieces for Piano from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75

Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67, a children's tale for narrator and orchestra

Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78, cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus, and orchestra

Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80

The Three War Sonatas:

Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82

Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major, Op. 83

Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat major, Op. 84

Betrothal in a Monastery, Op. 86, opera.

Cinderella, Op. 87, ballet in three acts

War and Peace, Op. 91, opera in thirteen scenes

String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 92

Flute Sonata in D, Op. 94 (later arranged as Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 94a))

Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100

Piano Sonata No. 9 in C major, Op. 103

Symphony No. 6 in E-flat minor, Op. 111

Ivan the Terrible, Op. 116, music for Eisenstein's classic film of the same name.

The Tale of the Stone Flower, Op. 118, ballet in two acts

Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in E minor, Op. 125, written forMstislav

Symphony No. 7 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131

Overture on Hebrew

Overture on Hebrew
Themes (1919),
performed by members
of the Advent Chamber

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Prokofiev was a soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Piero Coppola, in the
first recording of his Piano Concerto No. 3, recorded in London by His Master's Voice in June 1932.
Prokofiev also recorded some of his solo piano music for HMV in Paris in February 1935; these
recordings were issued on CD by Pearl and Naxos.[146] In 1938, he conducted the Moscow
Philharmonic Orchestrain a recording of the second suite from his Romeo and Juliet ballet; this
performance was later released on LP and CD.[147] Another reported recording with Prokofiev and the
Moscow Philharmonic was of the First Violin Concerto with David Oistrakh as soloist; Everest
Records later released this recording on an LP. Despite the attribution, the conductor was Aleksandr
Gauk. A short sound film of Prokofiev playing some of the music from his opera War and Peace and
then explaining the music has been discovered.[148]

Honours and awards[edit]

Six Stalin Prizes:
(1943), 2nd degree for Piano Sonata No. 7
(1946), 1st degree for Symphony No. 5 and Piano Sonata No. 8
(1946), 1st degree for the music for the film "Ivan the Terrible" Part 1 (1944)
(1946), 1st degree for the ballet "Cinderella" (1944)
(1947), 1st degree for Violin Sonata No. 1
(1951), 2nd degree for vocal-symphonic suite "Winter bonfire" and the oratorio "On Guard
for Peace" on poems by S. Marshak

Lenin Prize (1957 posthumous) for Symphony No. 7

People's Artist of RSFSR (1947)

Order of the Red Banner of Labour

Autobiography and diaries[edit]

Prokofiev, Sergei (1979). David H. Appel, ed. Prokofiev by Prokofiev: A

Composer's Memoir. Guy Daniels (translator). New York: Doubleday &
Co. ISBN 0-385-09960-6.

Prokofiev, Sergei (1991). Soviet Diary 1927 and Other Writings. London: Faber
and Faber.

Prokofiev, Sergei (2000) [1960]. S. Shlifstein, ed. Sergei Prokofiev:

Autobiography, Articles, Reminiscences. Rose Prokofieva (translator). The
Minerva Group, Inc. ISBN 0-89875-149-7.

Prokofiev, Sergei (2006). Anthony Phillips (translator), ed. Diaries 19071914:

Prodigious Youth. London/Ithaca: Faber and Faber/Cornell University
Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-4540-8.

Prokofiev, Sergei (2008). Anthony Phillips (translator), ed. Diaries 19151923:

Behind the Mask. London / Ithaca: Faber and Faber/Cornell University
Press. ISBN 978-0-571-22630-6.

Prokofiev, Sergei (2012). Anthony Phillips (translator), ed. Diaries 19241933:

Prodigal Son. London/ Ithaca: Faber and Faber/Cornell University
Press. ISBN 978-0-571-23405-9.
Prokofiev, Sergei (2002). Dnyevnik 19071933 (3 vols, in Russian).
Paris. ISBN 2-9518138-0-5. ISBN 2-9518138-1-3, ISBN 2-9518138-2-1


Memoirs, essays, etc.[edit]

Sats, Natalia (1979). Sketches From My Life. Sergei Syrovatkin (translator).

Moscow: Raduga Publishers. ISBN 5-05-001099-3.

Shlifstein (ed.), Semyon (1956). Prokofiev: Autobiography, Articles,

Reminiscences. Rose Prokofieva (translator). Moscow: Foreign Languages
Publishing House.


Dorign, Michel (1994). Serge Prokofiev. Paris.

Jaff, Daniel (1998). Sergey Prokofiev (2008 ed.). London.

Morrison, Simon (2009). The People's Artist: Prokofiev's Soviet Years. Oxford.

Morrison, Simon (2013). The Love & Wars of Lina Prokofiev. London.

Nestyev, Israel (1946). Prokofiev, his Musical Life. New York.

Nestyev, Israel (1961). Prokofiev. Florence Jonas (translator).

Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Nice, David (2003). Prokofiev: From Russia to the West 18911935. London.

Rakhmanova, Marina Pavlovna, ed. (1991). : 110-

: , , [Sergei Prokofiev
on the 110th anniversary of his birth: letters, reminiscences and articles] (in
Russian). Moscow. ISBN 978-5-201-14607-8.

Samuel, Claude (1971). Prokofiev. London. ISBN 0-7145-0490-4.

Seroff, Victor (1968). Sergei Prokofiev: A Soviet Tragedy. New York.

Vishnevetskiy, Igor (2009). Sergei Prokofiev (in Russian). Moscow. ISBN 978-

Other monographs[edit]

Ezrahi, Christina (2012). Swans of the Kremlin: Ballet and Power in Soviet
Russia. Pittsburgh.ISBN 978-1-85273-158-8.

Tomoff, Kiril (2006). Creative Union: The Professional Organization of Soviet

Composers, 19391953. Ithaca. ISBN 978-0-8014-4411-1.

Dictionary articles[edit]
Slonimsky, Nicolas (ed).The Concise Edition of Baker's Biographical Dictionary
of Musicians, 8th ed. New York, Schirmer Books, 1993. ISBN 0-02-872416-X

Taruskin, Richard. "Prokofiev, Sergei" in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera,

ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992) ISBN 0-333-73432-7

Modest Mussorgsky
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Mussorgsky" redirects here. For other uses, see Mussorgsky (disambiguation).

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky, 1870

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (Russian: ; IPA: [mdst ptrovt

musrkskj]; 21 March [O.S. 9 March] 1839 28 March [O.S. 16 March] 1881) was a Russian
composer, one of the group known as "The Five". He was an innovator ofRussian music in the
romantic period. He strove to achieve a uniquely Russian musical identity, often in deliberate
defiance of the established conventions of Western music.
Many of his works were inspired by Russian history, Russian folklore, and other nationalist themes.
Such works include the opera Boris Godunov, the orchestral tone poem Night on Bald Mountain and
the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition.
For many years Mussorgsky's works were mainly known in versions revised or completed by other
composers. Many of his most important compositions have posthumously come into their own in
their original forms, and some of the original scores are now also available.



o 2.1Early years

o 2.2Maturity

o 2.3Peak

o 2.4Decline




6External links


The aristocratic Mussorgsky brothersFilaret (also known as "Yevgeniy", left), and Modest (right), 1858.

The spelling and pronunciation of the composer's name has occasioned some confusion.
The family name derives from a 15th- or 16th-century ancestor, Roman Vasilyevich Monastyryov,
who appears in the Velvet Book, the 17th-century genealogy of Russian boyars. Roman Vasilyevich
bore the nickname "Musorga", and was the grandfather of the first Mussorgsky. The composer could
trace his lineage to Rurik, the legendary 9th-century founder of the Russian state.[1]
In Mussorgsky family documents the spelling of the name varies: "Musarskiy", "Muserskiy",
"Muserskoy", "Musirskoy", "Musorskiy", and "Musurskiy". The baptismal record gives the composer's
name as "Muserskiy".[2]
In early (up to 1858) letters to Mily Balakirev, the composer signed his name "Musorskiy"
(Russian: o).[3] The "g" made its first appearance in a letter to Balakirev in 1863.
Mussorgsky used this new spelling (Russian: o, Musorgskiy) to the end of his life, but
occasionally reverted to the earlier "Musorskiy". [5][6] The addition of the "g" to the name was likely
initiated by the composer's elder brother Filaret to obscure the resemblance of the name's root to an
unsavory Russian word:[7]
o (msor) n. m. debris, rubbish, refuse[8]
Mussorgsky apparently did not take the new spelling seriously, and played on the "rubbish"
connection in letters to Vladimir Stasov and to Stasov's family, routinely signing his
name Musoryanin, roughly "garbage-dweller" (compare dvoryanin: "nobleman").[6]
The first syllable of the name originally received the stress (i.e., MS-r-ski), and does so to this
day in Russia and in the composer's home district. The mutability of the second-syllable vowel in
the versions of the name mentioned above gives evidence that this syllable did not receive the
The addition of the "g" and the accompanying shift in stress to the second syllable (i.e., Mu-
SRK-ski), sometimes described as a Polish variant, was supported by Filaret Mussorgsky's
descendants until his line ended in the 20th century. Their example was followed by many
influential Russians, such as Fyodor Shalyapin, Nikolay Golovanov, andTikhon Khrennikov, who,
perhaps dismayed that the great composer's name was "reminiscent of garbage", supported the
erroneous second-syllable stress that has also become entrenched in the West. [10]
The Western convention of doubling the first "s", which is not observed in scholarly literature
(e.g., The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians), likely arose because in many
Western European languages a single intervocalic /s/ often becomes voiced to /z/ (as in
"music"), unlike in Slavic languages where it remains unvoiced. Doubling the consonant thus
reinforces its voiceless sibilant /s/ sound.

Early years[edit]

Young Mussorgsky as a cadet in the Preobrazhensky Regiment of the Imperial Guard.

Mussorgsky was born in Karevo, Toropets Uyezd, Pskov Governorate, Russian Empire, 400 km
(250 mi) south of Saint Petersburg. His wealthy and land-owning family, the noble family
of Mussorgsky, is reputedly descended from the first Ruthenian ruler, Rurik, through the
sovereign princes of Smolensk. At age six Mussorgsky began receiving piano lessons from his
mother, herself a trained pianist. His progress was sufficiently rapid that three years later he was
able to perform a John Field concerto and works by Franz Liszt for family and friends. At 10, he
and his brother were taken to Saint Petersburg to study at the elite German
language Petrischule (St. Peter's School). While there, Modest studied the piano with the
noted Anton Gerke. In 1852, the 12-year-old Mussorgsky published a piano piece titled "Porte-
enseigne Polka" at his father's expense.
Mussorgsky's parents planned the move to Saint Petersburg so that both their sons would renew
the family tradition of military service.[11] To this end, Mussorgsky entered the Cadet School of the
Guards at age 13. Sharp controversy had arisen over the educational attitudes at the time of
both this institute and its director, a General Sutgof.[12] All agreed the Cadet School could be a
brutal place, especially for new recruits.[13] More tellingly for Mussorgsky, it was likely where he
began his eventual path to alcoholism.[13] According to a former student, singer and composer
Nikolai Kompaneisky, Sutgof "was proud when a cadet returned from leave drunk with
Music remained important to him, however. Sutgof's daughter was also a pupil of Gerke, and
Mussorgsky was allowed to attend lessons with her.[12] His skills as a pianist made him much in
demand by fellow-cadets; for them he would play dances interspersed with his
ownimprovisations.[15] In 1856 Mussorgsky who had developed a strong interest in history and
studied German philosophy graduated from the Cadet School. Following family tradition he
received a commission with the Preobrazhensky Regiment, the foremost regiment of the
Russian Imperial Guard.[15]
In October 1856 the 17-year-old Mussorgsky met the 22-year-old Alexander Borodin while both
men served at a military hospital in Saint Petersburg. The two were soon on good terms.
Borodin later remembered,
His little uniform was spic and span, close-fitting, his feet turned outwards, his hair smoothed
down and greased, his nails perfectly cut, his hands well groomed like a lord's. His manners
were elegant, aristocratic: his speech likewise, delivered through somewhat clenched teeth,
interspersed with French phrases, rather precious. There was a touchthough very moderate
of foppishness. His politeness and good manners were exceptional. The ladies made a fuss of
him. He sat at the piano and, throwing up his hands coquettishly, played with extreme sweetness
and grace (etc) extracts from Trovatore, Traviata, and so on, and around him buzzed in chorus:
"Charmant, dlicieux!" and suchlike. I met Modest Petrovich three or four times at Popov's in this
way, both on duty and at the hospital."[17]
Alexander Dargomyzhsky

More portentous was Mussorgsky's introduction that winter to Alexander Dargomyzhsky, at that
time the most important Russian composer afterMikhail Glinka. Dargomyzhsky was impressed
with Mussorgsky's pianism. As a result, Mussorgsky became a fixture at Dargomyzhsky's
soires. There, critic Vladimir Stasov later recalled, he began "his true musical life."[18]
Over the next two years at Dargomyzhsky's, Mussorgsky met several figures of importance in
Russia's cultural life, among them Stasov, Csar Cui (a fellow officer), and Mily Balakirev.
Balakirev had an especially strong impact. Within days he took it upon himself to help shape
Mussorgsky's fate as a composer. He recalled to Stasov, "Because I am not a theorist, I could
not teach him harmony (as, for instance Rimsky-Korsakov now teaches it) ... [but] I explained to
him the form of compositions, and to do this we played through both Beethoven symphonies [as
piano duets] and much else (Schumann, Schubert, Glinka, and others), analyzing the
form."[19] Up to this point Mussorgsky had known nothing but piano music; his knowledge of more
radical recent music was virtually non-existent. Balakirev started filling these gaps in
Mussorgsky's knowledge.[20]
In 1858, within a few months of beginning his studies with Balakirev, Mussorgsky resigned his
commission to devote himself entirely to music.[21]He also suffered a painful crisis at this time.
This may have had a spiritual component (in a letter to Balakirev the young man referred to
"mysticism and cynical thoughts about the Deity"), but its exact nature will probably never be
known. In 1859, the 20-year-old gained valuable theatrical experience by assisting in a
production of Glinka's opera A Life for the Tsar on the Glebovo estate of a former singer and her
wealthy husband; he also met Konstantin Lyadov (father of Anatoly Lyadov) and enjoyed a
formative visit to Moscow after which he professed a love of "everything Russian".
In spite of this epiphany, Mussorgsky's music still leaned more toward foreign models; a four-
hand piano sonata which he produced in 1860 contains his only movement in sonata form. Nor
is any 'nationalistic' impulse easily discernible in the incidental music for Vladislav Ozerov's
play Oedipus in Athens, on which he worked between the ages of 19 and 22 (and then
abandoned unfinished), or in the Intermezzo in modo classico for piano solo (revised and
orchestrated in 1867). The latter was the only important piece he composed between December
1860 and August 1863: the reasons for this probably lie in the painful re-emergence of his
subjective crisis in 1860 and the purely objective difficulties which resulted from
the emancipation of the serfs the following year as a result of which the family was deprived of
half its estate, and Mussorgsky had to spend a good deal of time in Karevo unsuccessfully
attempting to stave off their looming impoverishment.
Gustave Flaubert. Mussorgsky started an opera based on his Salammb but did not finish it.

By this time, Mussorgsky had freed himself from the influence of Balakirev and was largely
teaching himself. In 1863 he began an opera Salammb on which he worked between 1863
and 1866 before losing interest in the project. During this period he had returned to Saint
Petersburg and was supporting himself as a low-grade civil-servant while living in a six-man
"commune". In a heady artistic and intellectual atmosphere, he read and discussed a wide range
of modern artistic and scientific ideas including those of the provocative writer Chernyshevsky,
known for the bold assertion that, in art, "form and content are opposites". Under such
influences he came more and more to embrace the ideal of artistic realism and all that it
entailed, whether this concerned the responsibility to depict life "as it is truly lived"; the
preoccupation with the lower strata of society; or the rejection of repeating, symmetrical musical
forms as insufficiently true to the unrepeating, unpredictable course of "real life".

Night on Bald Mountain

edited version of the
piece, performed by the
Skidmore College
Orchestra. Courtesy
of Musopen

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"Real life" affected Mussorgsky painfully in 1865, when his mother died; it was at this point that
the composer had his first serious bout of alcoholic dipsomania. The 26-year-old was, however,
on the point of writing his first realistic songs (including "Hopak" and "Darling Savishna", both of
them composed in 1866 and among his first "real" publications the following year). The year
1867 was also the one in which he finished the original orchestral version of his Night on Bald
Mountain (which, however, Balakirev criticised and refused to conduct, with the result that it was
never performed during Mussorgsky's lifetime).
Mussorgsky's career as a civil servant was by no means stable or secure: though he was
assigned to various posts and even received a promotion in these early years, in 1867 he was
declared 'supernumerary' remaining 'in service', but receiving no wages. Decisive
developments were occurring in his artistic life, however. Although it was in 1867 that Stasov first
referred to the 'kuchka' ('The Five') of Russian composers loosely grouped around Balakirev,
Mussorgsky was by then ceasing to seek Balakirev's approval and was moving closer to the
older Alexander Dargomyzhsky.

Ivan Melnikov as the title character in Boris Godunov, 1874

Since 1866 Dargomzhsky had been working on his opera The Stone Guest, a version of
the Don Juan story with a Pushkin text that he declared would be set "just as it stands, so that
the inner truth of the text should not be distorted", and in a manner that abolished the 'unrealistic'
division between aria and recitative in favour of a continuous mode of syllabic but lyrically
heightened declamation somewhere between the two.
Under the influence of this work (and the ideas of Georg Gottfried Gervinus, according to whom
"the highest natural object of musical imitation is emotion, and the method of imitating emotion is
to mimic speech"), Mussorgsky in 1868 rapidly set the first eleven scenes of Nikolai Gogol's The
Marriage (Zhenitba), with his priority being to render into music the natural accents and patterns
of the play's naturalistic and deliberately humdrum dialogue. This work marked an extreme
position in Mussorgsky's pursuit of naturalistic word-setting: he abandoned it unorchestrated
after reaching the end of his 'Act 1', and though its characteristically 'Mussorgskyian'
declamation is to be heard in all his later vocal music, the naturalistic mode of vocal writing more
and more became merely one expressive element among many.

Fyodor Komissarzhevsky as The Pretender in Boris Godunov

A few months after abandoning Zhenitba, the 29-year-old Mussorgsky was encouraged to write
an opera on the story of Boris Godunov. This he did, assembling and shaping a text from
Pushkin's play and Karamzin's history. He completed the large-scale score the following year
while living with friends and working for the Forestry Department. In 1871, however, the finished
opera was rejected for theatrical performance, apparently because of its lack of any 'prima
donna' role. Mussorgsky set to work producing a revised and enlarged 'second version'. During
the next year, which he spent sharing rooms with Rimsky-Korsakov, he made changes that went
beyond those requested by the theatre. In this version the opera was accepted, probably in May
1872, and three excerpts were staged at the Mariinsky Theatre in 1873. It is often asserted that
in 1872 the opera was rejected a second time, but no specific evidence for this exists.
By the time of the first production of Boris Godunov in February 1874, Mussorgsky had taken
part in the ill-fated Mlada project (in the course of which he had made a choral version of
his Night on Bald Mountain) and had begun Khovanshchina. Though far from being a critical
success and in spite of receiving only a dozen or so performances the popular reaction in
favour of Boris made this the peak of Mussorgsky's career.
From this peak a pattern of decline becomes increasingly apparent. Already the Balakirev circle
was disintegrating. Mussorgsky was especially bitter about this. He wrote to Vladimir Stasov,
"[T]he Mighty Handful has degenerated into soulless traitors." [22] In drifting away from his old
friends, Mussorgsky had been seen to fall victim to 'fits of madness' that could well have been
alcoholism-related. His friend Viktor Hartmann had died, and his relative and recent
roommate Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov (who furnished the poems for the song-
cycle Sunless and would go on to provide those for the Songs and Dances of Death) had moved
away to get married.

Ilya Repin's celebrated portrait of Mussorgsky, painted 25 March 1881, only a few days before the
composer's death.

While alcoholism was Mussorgsky's personal weakness, it was also a behavior pattern
considered typical for those of Mussorgsky's generation who wanted to oppose the
establishment and protest through extreme forms of behavior.[23] One contemporary notes, "an
intense worship of Bacchus was considered to be almost obligatory for a writer of that period. It
was a showing off, a 'pose,' for the best people of the [eighteen-]sixties." Another writes,
"Talented people in Russia who love the simple folk cannot but drink."[24] Mussorgsky spent day
and night in a Saint Petersburg tavern of low repute, the Maly Yaroslavets, accompanied by
other bohemian dropouts. He and his fellow drinkers idealized their alcoholism, perhaps seeing
it as ethical and aesthetic opposition. This bravado, however, led to little more than isolation and
eventual self-destruction.[23]

Pictures at an Exhibition
(first part of three)


Pictures at an Exhibition
(second part of three)

Pictures at an Exhibition
(third part of three)

Arrangement for two

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For a time Mussorgsky was able to maintain his creative output: his compositions from 1874
includeSunless, the Khovanshchina Prelude, and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition (in
memory of Hartmann); he also began work on another opera based on Gogol, The Fair at
Sorochyntsi (for which he produced another choral version of Night on Bald Mountain).

Grave of Modest Mussorgsky in the Tikhvin Cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in Saint

In the years that followed, Mussorgsky's decline became increasingly steep. Although now part
of a new circle of eminent personages that included singers, medical men and actors, he was
increasingly unable to resist drinking, and a succession of deaths among his closest associates
caused him great pain. At times, however, his alcoholism would seem to be in check, and among
the most powerful works composed during his last six years are the four Songs and Dances of
Death. His civil service career was made more precarious by his frequent 'illnesses' and
absences, and he was fortunate to obtain a transfer to a post (in the Office of Government
Control) where his music-loving superior treated him with great leniency in 1879 even allowing
him to spend three months touring twelve cities as a singer's accompanist.
The decline could not be halted, however. In 1880 he was finally dismissed from government
service. Aware of his destitution, one group of friends organised a stipend designed to support
the completion of Khovanshchina; another group organised a similar fund to pay him to
completeThe Fair at Sorochyntsi. However, neither work was completed
(although Khovanshchina, in piano score with only two numbers uncomposed, came close to
being finished).
In early 1881 a desperate Mussorgsky declared to a friend that there was 'nothing left but
begging', and suffered four seizures in rapid succession. Though he found a comfortable room in
a good hospital and for several weeks even appeared to be rallying the situation was
hopeless. Repin painted the famous red-nosed portrait in what were to be the last days of the
composer's life: a week after his 42nd birthday, he was dead. He was interred at the Tikhvin
Cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in Saint Petersburg.
During 1935 to 1937, in connection with the reconstruction and redevelopment of the so-called
Necropolis of Masters of Arts, the square in front of the Lavra was substantially extended and
the border line of the Tikhvin cemetery was accordingly moved. The Soviet government,
however, moved only gravestones to a new location, and the tombs were covered with asphalt,
including Mussorgsky's grave. The burial place of Mussorgsky is now a bus stop. [citation needed]
Mussorgsky, like others of 'The Five', was perceived as extremist by the Emperor and much of
his court. This may have been the reason TsarAlexander III personally crossed off Boris
Godunov from the list of proposed pieces for the Imperial Opera in 1888.[25]

Main article: List of compositions by Modest Mussorgsky

Il Vecchio Castello

Performed by David

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Mussorgsky's works, while strikingly novel, are stylistically Romantic and draw heavily on
Russian musical themes. He has been the inspiration for many Russian composers, including
most notably Dmitri Shostakovich (in his late symphonies) and Sergei Prokofiev (in his operas).
In 1868/1869 he composed the opera Boris Godunov, about the life of the Russian tsar, but it
was rejected by the Mariinsky Opera. Mussorgsky thus edited the work, making a final version in
1874. The early version is considered darker and more concise than the later version, but also
more crude. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov re-orchestrated the opera in 1896 and revised it in 1908.
The opera has also been revised by other composers, notably Shostakovich, who made two
versions, one for film and one for stage.
The opera Khovanshchina was unfinished and unperformed when Mussorgsky died, but it was
completed by Rimsky-Korsakov and received its premiere in 1886 in Saint Petersburg. This
opera, too, was revised by Shostakovich. The Fair at Sorochyntsi, another opera, was left
incomplete at his death but a dance excerpt, the Gopak, is frequently performed.
Mussorgsky's most imaginative and frequently performed work is the cycle of piano pieces
describing paintings in sound called Pictures at an Exhibition. This composition, best known
through an orchestral arrangement by Maurice Ravel, was written in commemoration of his
friend, the architect Viktor Hartmann.
Mussorgsky's single-movement orchestral work Night on Bald Mountain enjoyed broad popular
recognition in the 1940s when it was featured, in tandem with Schubert's 'Ave Maria', in
the Disney film Fantasia.
Among the composer's other works are a number of songs, including three song cycles: The
Nursery (1872), Sunless (1874) and Songs and Dances of Death (1877); plusMephistopheles'
Song of the Flea and many others. Important early recordings of songs by Mussorgsky were
made by tenor Vladimir Rosing in the 1920s and 1930s.[26] Other recordings have been made
by Boris Christoff between 1951 and 1957 and by Sergei Leiferkus in 1993.[27]

Contemporary opinions of Mussorgsky as a composer and person varied from positive to
ambiguous to negative. Mussorgsky's eventual supporters, Stasov and Balakirev, initially
registered strongly negative impressions of the composer. Stasov wrote Balakirev, in an 1863
letter, "I have no use for Mussorgsky. His views may tally with mine, but I have never heard him
express an intelligent idea. All in him is flabby, dull. He is, it seems to me, a thorough idiot", and
Balakirev agreed: "Yes, Mussorgsky is little short of an idiot." [28]
Mixed impressions are recorded by Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, colleagues of
Mussorgsky who, unlike him, made their living as composers. Both praised his talent while
expressing disappointment with his technique. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote that Mussorgsky's scores
included "absurd, disconnected harmony, ugly part-writing, sometimes strikingly illogical
modulation, sometimes a depressing lack of it, unsuccessful scoring of orchestral things... what
was needed at the moment was an edition for performance, for practical artistic aims, for
familiarization with his enormous talent, not for the study of his personality and artistic
While preparing an edition of Sorochints Fair, Anatoly Lyadov remarked: "It is easy enough to
correct Mussorgsky's irregularities. The only trouble is that when this is done, the character and
originality of the music are done away with, and the composer's individuality vanishes." [30]
Tchaikovsky, in a letter to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck was also critical of Mussorgsky:
"Mussorgsky you very rightly call a hopeless case. In talent he is perhaps superior to all the
[other members of The Five], but his nature is narrow-minded, devoid of any urge towards self-
perfection, blindly believing in the ridiculous theories of his circle and in his own genius. In
addition, he has a certain base side to his nature which likes coarseness, uncouthness,
roughness. He flaunts his illiteracy, takes pride in his ignorance, mucks along anyhow, blindly
believing in the infallibility of his genius. Yet he has flashes of talent which are, moreover, not
devoid of originality."[31]
Western perceptions of Mussorgsky changed with the European premiere of Boris Godunov in
1908. Before the premiere, he was regarded as an eccentric in the west. CriticEdward
Dannreuther, wrote, in the 1905 edition of The Oxford History of Music, "Mussorgsky, in his
vocal efforts, appears wilfully eccentric. His style impresses the Western ear as barbarously
However, after the premiere, views on Mussorgsky's music changed drastically. Gerald
Abraham, a musicologist, and an authority on Mussorgsky: "As a musical translator of words and
all that can be expressed in words, of psychological states, and even physical movement, he is
unsurpassed; as an absolute musician he was hopelessly limited, with remarkably little ability to
construct pure music or even a purely musical texture." [33]
Mily Balakirev
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Portrait of Balakirev

Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev (Russian: , IPA: [milj lksevt b

lakrf]; 2 January 1837 [O.S. 21 December 1836] 29 May [O.S. 16 May] 1910)[a 1] was a
Russian pianist, conductor and composer known today primarily for his work promoting musical
nationalism and his encouragement of more famous Russian composers, notably Pyotr Ilyich
Tchaikovsky. He began his career as a pivotal figure, extending the fusion of traditional folk music
and experimental classical music practices begun by composer Mikhail Glinka. In the process,
Balakirev developed musical patterns that could express overt nationalistic feeling. After a nervous
breakdown and consequential sabbatical, he returned to classical music but did not wield the same
level of influence as before.
In conjunction with critic and fellow nationalist Vladimir Stasov, in the late-1850s and early 1860s
Balakirev brought together the composers now known as The Fivethe others were Alexander
Borodin, Csar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. For several years, Balakirev
was the only professional musician of the group; the others were amateurs limited in musical
education. He imparted to them his musical beliefs, which continued to underlie their thinking long
after he left the group in 1871, and encouraged their compositional efforts. While his methods could
be dictatorial, the results of his influence were several works which established these composers'
reputations individually and as a group. He performed a similar function for Tchaikovsky at two points
in the latter's careerin 18689 with the fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet and in 18825 with
the Manfred Symphony.
As a composer, Balakirev finished major works many years after he had started them; he began
his First Symphony in 1864 but completed it in 1897. The exception to this was his oriental
fantasy Islamey for solo piano, which he composed quickly and remains popular among virtuosos.
Often, the musical ideas normally associated with Rimsky-Korsakov or Borodin originated in
Balakirev's compositions, which Balakirev played at informal gatherings of The Five. However, his
slow pace in completing works for the public deprived him of credit for his inventiveness, and pieces
that would have enjoyed success had they been completed in the 1860s and 1870s made a much
smaller impact.


o 1.1Early years

o 1.2The Five

o 1.3Saint Petersburg Conservatory and Free School of Music

o 1.4Mature works and Prague visit

o 1.5Waning influence and friendship with Tchaikovsky

o 1.6Breakdown and return to music

2Personal life


o 3.1Influences

o 3.2Russian style: The Overtures

o 3.3Progressive development: First Symphony

o 3.4Orientalism: Tamara





8External links

Early years[edit]
Portrait of (left to right) Balakirev,Vladimir Odoevsky and Mikhail Glinkaby Ilya Repin. The painting is somewhat
anachronistic Balakirev is depicted as a man approaching middle age, with a full beard; however, Glinka died
in 1857, when Balakirev was only 20 years old.

Balakirev was born at Nizhny Novgorod, into a poor clerk's family. He received his first lessons in
music from his mother and at the age of four was able to reproduce tunes on the piano. His non-
musical education began at the Nizhny Novgorod Gymnasium. When he was ten his mother took
him to Moscow during the summer holidays for a course of ten piano lessons with Alexander
Dubuque, a pupil of the Irish pianist and composer John Field. After his mother's death, Balakirev
was transferred from the Gymnasium to the Alexandrovsky Institute, where he boarded. Balakirev's
musical talents did not remain unnoticed, as he soon found a patron in Alexander
Ulybyshev (Oulibicheff). Ulybyshev was considered the leading musical figure and patron in Nizhny
Novgorod; he owned a vast musical library and was the author of a biography of Wolfgang Amadeus
Balakirev's musical education was placed in the hands of the pianist Karl Eisrach, who also arranged
the regular musical evenings at the Ulybyshev estate. Through Eisrach, Balakirev was given
opportunities to read, play and listen to music and was exposed to the music ofFrdric
Chopin and Mikhail Glinka. Eisrach and Ulybyshev also allowed Balakirev to rehearse the count's
private orchestra in rehearsals of orchestral and choral works. Eventually, Balakirev, still aged only
14, led a performance of Mozart's Requiem. At 15 he was allowed to lead rehearsals of Ludwig van
Beethoven's First and Eighth Symphonies. His earliest surviving compositions date from the same
yearthe first movement of a septet for flute, clarinet, piano and strings and a Grande Fantasie on
Russian Folksongs for piano and orchestra.[1][2]
Balakirev left the Alexandrovsky Institute in 1853 and entered the University of Kazan as a
mathematics student, along with his friend P.D. Boborikin, who later became a novelist. He was soon
noted in local society as a pianist and was able to supplement his limited finances by taking pupils.
His holidays were spent either at Nizhny Novgorod or on the Ulybyshev country estate at Lukino,
where he played numerous Beethoven sonatas to help his patron with his book on the composer.
Works from this period include a piano fantasy based on themes from Glinka's opera A Life for the
Tsar, an attempt at a string quartet, three songs which would eventually be published in 1908 and
the opening movement (the only one completed) of his First Piano Concerto.[3]
After Balakirev completed his courses in the late autumn of 1855, Ulybyshev took him to Saint
Petersburg, where he met Glinka. While Glinka considered Balakirev's compositional technique
defective (there were as yet no music textbooks in Russian and Balakirev's German was barely
adequate), he thought highly of his talent, encouraging him to take up music as a career.[4] Their
acquaintance was marked by discussions, by Glinka passing several Spanish musical themes to
Balakirev, and with Glinka entrusting the young man with the musical education of his four-year-old
niece. Balakirev made his debut in a university concert in February 1856, playing the completed
movement from his First Piano Concerto. This was followed a month later with a concert of his piano
and chamber compositions. In 1858 he played the solo part in
Beethoven's Emperor Concerto before the Tsar. In 1859 he had 12 songs published.[1] Nevertheless,
he was still in extreme poverty, supporting himself mainly by giving piano lessons (sometimes nine a
day) and by playing at soirees given by the aristocracy.[4]
The Five[edit]

Rimsky-Korsakov as a naval cadet, at the time he met Balakirev

The deaths of Glinka in 1857 and Ulybyshev the following year left Balakirev without influential
supporters. Nevertheless, his time with Glinka had sparked a passion for Russian nationalism within
Balakirev, leading him to adopt the stance that Russia should have its own distinct school of music,
free from Southern and Western European influences. He had also started meeting other important
figures who would abet him in this goal in 1856, including Csar Cui, Alexander Serov, the Stasov
brothers and Alexander Dargomyzhsky.[1] He now gathered around him composers with similar
ideals, whom he promised to train according to his own principles.[5] These included Modest
Mussorgsky in 1858; Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in November 1861 and Alexander Borodin in
November or December 1862.[1] Together with Cui, these men were described by noted
critic Vladimir Stasov as "a mighty handful" (Russian: , Moguchaya kuchka), but they
eventually became better known in English simply as The Five.
As an instructor and influence of magnetic personality, Balakirev inspired his comrades to
improbable heights of musical creativity.[1] However, he vehemently opposed academic training,
considering it a threat to the musical imagination.[6] It was better in his view to begin composing right
away and learn through that act of creation.[7] This line of reasoning could be argued as a
rationalization to his own lack of technical training. [6] He had been trained as a pianist and had to
discover his own way to becoming a composer.[8] Rimsky-Korsakov eventually realized as much, but
nevertheless wrote:
Balakirev, who had never had any systematic course in harmony and counterpoint and had not even
superficially applied himself to them, evidently thought such studies quite unnecessary.... An
excellent pianist, a superior sight reader of music, a splendid improviser, endowed by nature with a
sense of correct harmony and part-writing, he possessed a technique partly native and partly
acquired through a vast musical erudition, with the help of an extraordinary memory, keen and
retentive, which means so much in steering a critical course in musical literature. Then, too, he was
a marvelous critic, especially a technical critic. He instantly felt every technical imperfection or error,
he grasped a defect in form at once.[9]

Alexander Dargomyzhsky eventually replaced Balakirev as a mentor to The Five

Balakirev had the musical experience that the others in The Five lacked, [5] and he instructed them
much as he instructed himselfby anempirical approach, learning how other composers solved
various problems by sifting through their scores and seeing how they addressed those challenges.
While this approach may have been helpful for Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov writes, it was not so
helpful for individuals completely different in nature from Balakirev or who matured as composers "at
different intervals and in a different manner".[10]
Balakirev's eventual undoing was his demand that his students' musical tastes coincide exactly with
his own, with the slightest deviation prohibited.[10] Whenever one of them played one of his own
compositions for Balakirev, Balakirev would seat himself at the piano and show, through
improvisation, how he felt the composition should be changed. Passages in other people's works
came out sounding like his music, not their own.[9] By the late 1860s, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-
Korsakov stopped accepting what they now considered his high-handed meddling with their work,
and Stasov began to distance himself from Balakirev.[11] The other members of The Five also
became interested in writing opera, a genre Balakirev did not consider highly, after the success
of Alexander Serov's opera Judith in 1863, and gravitated toward Alexander Dargomyzhsky as a
mentor in this field.[12]
Saint Petersburg Conservatory and Free School of Music [edit]
The formation of The Five paralleled the early years of Tsar Alexander II, a time of innovation and
reform in the political and social climate in Russia. The Russian Musical Society (RMS) and the
musical conservatories in St. Petersburg and Moscow were all established at this time. While these
institutions had powerful champions in Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein, others feared the influence of
German instructors and musical precepts into Russian classical music. Balakirev's sympathies and
closest contacts were in the latter camp, and he frequently made derogatory comments about the
German "routine" which, he believed, came at the expense of the composer's originality.[13]
Anton Rubinstein on the podium as portrayed by Ilya Repin.

Balakirev was outspoken in his opposition to Anton Rubinstein's efforts. This opposition was partly
ideological and partly personal. Anton Rubinstein was at that time the only Russian able to live on
his art, while Balakirev had to live on income from piano lessons and recitals played in the salons of
the aristocracy.[13] At stake was a viable career in music as artistic director of the Russian Musical
Society.[13]Balakirev attacked Rubinstein for his conservative musical tastes, especially for his leaning
on German masters such as Mendelssohn andBeethoven, and for his insistence on professional
musical training.[13] Balakirev's followers were similarly outspoken. Mussorgsky, for instance, called
the Saint Petersburg Conservatory a place where Rubinstein and Nikolai Zaremba, who
taught music theory there, dressed "in professional, antimusical togas, first pollute their students'
minds, then seal them with various abominations."[14] There was also a petty, personal side to
Balakirev's attacks. Rubinstein had written an article in 1855 that was critical of Glinka. Glinka had
taken the article badly, and Balakirev likewise took Rubinstein's criticism personally.[13] Moreover,
Rubinstein was of German and Jewish descent, and Balakirev's comments were at times anti-
Semitic and xenophobic.[13]
The pro-Conservatory followers publicly called The Five "amateurs"a justified charge, as Balakirev
was the only professional musician of the group. To counteract these criticisms and to aid in the
creation of a distinctly "Russian" school of music, Balakirev and Gavriil Lomakin, a local choirmaster,
founded the Free School of Music in 1862.[1] Like the RMS, the Free School offered concerts as well
as education. Unlike the RMS, the Free School offered music education at no charge to students.
The school also emphasized singing, especially choral singing, to meet the demands of the Russian
Orthodox Church. Lomakin was appointed director, with Balakirev serving as his assistant. [15]To raise
funds for the school, Balakirev conducted orchestral concerts between 1862 and 1867, while
Lomakin conducted choral ones. These concerts offered less conservative programming musically
than the RMS concerts. They included the music of Hector Berlioz,Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt,
Glinka and Alexander Dargomyzhsky, and the first works of The Five.[16]
Mature works and Prague visit[edit]
Balakirev spent the summer of 1862 in the Caucasus, mainly in Essentuki, and was impressed
enough by the region to return there the following year and in 1868. He noted down folk tunes from
that region and from Georgia and Iran; these tunes would play an important part in his musical
development. One of the first compositions to show this influence was his setting of Alexander
Pushkin's "Georgian song", while a quasi-oriental style appeared in other songs. In 1864, Balakirev
considered writing an opera based on the folk legend of the Firebird (a subject upon which Igor
Stravinsky would later base his ballet The Firebird), but abandoned the project due to the lack of a
suitable libretto. He completed his Second Overture on Russian Themes that same year (1864),
which was performed that April at a Free School concert and published in 1869 as a "musical
picture" with the title 1000 Years.[4]

Bedich Smetana, with whom Balakirev quarreled over the Prague production of Glinka's opera A Life for the

In 1866, Balakirev's Collection of Russian Folksongs were published. These arrangements showed
great insight into the rhythm, harmony and types of song, although the key signatures and elaborate
textures of the piano accompaniments were not as idiomatic.[17] He also started a Symphony in C
major, of which he completed much of the first movement, scherzo and finale by 1866. [18] Even at this
point, however, Balakirev had trouble finishing large works; the symphony would not be finished until
decades later. He began a second piano concerto in the summer of 1861, with a slow movement
thematically connected with a requiem that occupied him at the same time. He did not finish the
opening movement until the following year, then set aside the work for 50 years. He suffered from
periods of acute depression, longed for death and thought about destroying all his manuscripts. [4] He
was still able to complete some works quickly. He began the original version of Islamey in August
1869, finishing it a month later. Nikolai Rubinstein premiered the "oriental fantasy," which Balakirev
considered a sketch for his symphonic poem Tamara, that December.[19]
Balakirev also intermittently spent time editing Glinka's works for publication, on behalf of the
composer's sister, Lyudmilla Shestakova. At her behest, he travelled to Prague in 1866 to arrange
the production of Glinka's operas there. This project was delayed due to the Austro-Prussian
War until the following year.[18] The Prague production of A Life for the Tsar under the direction
of Bedich Smetana reportedly horrified Balakirev, with Balakirev taking issue with the musical
tempos, the casting of various roles, and the costumes"[i]t was as though Smetana was trying to
turn the whole piece into a farce."[20] "[F]ive weeks of quarrels, intrigues by Smetana and his party,
and intensive rehearsals" followed,[18] with Balakirev attending every rehearsal.[21] Balakirev suspected
Smetana and others were influenced by pro-Polish elements of the Czech press, which labeled the
production a "Tsarist intrigue" paid for by the Russian government. [21] He had difficulties with the
production of Ruslan and Lyudmila under his direction, with the Czechs initially refusing to pay for
the cost of copying the orchestral parts, and the piano reduction of the score, from which Balakirev
was conducting rehearsals, mysteriously disappearing. [22] Biographer Mikhail Zetlin writes, "It is hard
to say, nowadays, whether Balakirev's suspicions were fully justified or whether they were partly due
to his own high-strung disposition."[23] Regardless, though A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and
Lyudmila were successes, Balakirev's lack of tact and despotic nature created considerable ill
feelings between him and others involved,[17] with he and Smetana no longer speaking to each other.

During this visit, Balakirev sketched and partly orchestrated an Overture on Czech Themes; this
work would be performed at a May 1867 Free School concert given in honor of Slav visitors to the
All-Russian Ethnographical Exhibition in Moscow. This was the concert for which, in his review,
Vladimir Stasov coined the phrase Moguchaya kuchka ("Mighty Handful") to describe The Five.[18]
Balakirev encouraged Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin to complete their first symphonies, whose
premieres he conducted in December 1865 and January 1869 respectively. He also conducted the
first performance of Mussorgsky's The Destruction of Sennacherib in March 1867 and the Polonaise
from Boris Godunov in April 1872.[17]
Waning influence and friendship with Tchaikovsky[edit]
See also: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and The Five
When Anton Rubinstein relinquished directorship of the RMS concerts in 1867, Balakirev was
suggested to replace him. The conservative patron for the RMS, Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna,
agreedprovided Nikolai Zaremba, who had taken over for Rubinstein at the Saint Petersburg
Conservatory was also appointed, along with a distinguished foreign composer.[24] The choice of
Berlioz as foreign conductor was widely lauded, but Balakirev's appointment was seen less
enthusiastically.[11] Balakirev's uncompromising nature caused tension at the RMS,[24] and his
preference for modern repertoire earned him the enmity of Elena Pavlovna. [25] In 1869, she informed
him that his services were no longer required.[11]

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky at the time he wrote Romeo and Juliet with Balakirev's support

The week after Balakirev's dismissal, an impassioned article in his defense appeared in The
Contemporary Chronicle. The author wasPyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Balakirev had conducted
Tchaikovsky's symphonic poem Fatum and the "Characteristic Dances" from his operaThe
Voyevoda at the RMS, and Fatum had been dedicated to Balakirev.[26] The appearance of
Tchaikovsky's article may have been calculated, as he knew Elena Pavlovna was due in Moscow,
where he lived, the day the article was to appear. He sent two notes to Balakirev; the first alerted him
to Elena Pavlovna's planned presence in Moscow, and the second thanked Balakirev for criticisms
he had made about Fatum just after conducting it. Balakirev's immediate response was positive and
This exchange of letters grew into a friendship and a creative collaboration over the next two years,
with Balakirev helping Tchaikovsky produce his first masterpiece, the fantasy-overture Romeo and
Juliet.[28] After Romeo and Juliet, the two men drifted apart as Balakirev took a sabbatical from the
music world.[29] In 1880, Balakirev received a copy of the final version of the score of Romeo from
Tchaikovsky, care of the music publisher Besel. Delighted Tchaikovsky had not forgotten him, he
replied with an invitation for Tchaikovsky to visit him in Saint Petersburg. [29] In the same letter, he
forwarded the programme for a symphony, based on Lord Byron's poem Manfred, which Balakirev
was convinced Tchaikovsky "would handle wonderfully well." This programme had originally been
penned by Stasov for Hector Berlioz. Tchaikovsky initially refused, but two years later changed his
mind, partly due to Balakirev's continued prodding over the project. [30] The Manfred Symphony,
finished in 1885, became the largest, most complex work Tchaikovsky had written to that point. [31] As
with Romeo and Juliet and Fatum, Tchaikovsky dedicated the Manfred Symphony to Balakirev.[32]
When Lomakin resigned as director of the Free Music School in February 1868, Balakirev took his
place there.[33] Once he had left the RMS, he concentrated on building attendance for concerts of the
Free Music School. He decided to recruit popular soloists and found Nikolai Rubinstein ready to
help.[34] Elena Pavlovna was furious. She decided to raise the social level of the RMS concerts by
attending them personally with her court. This rivalry caused financial difficulties for both concert
societies as RMS membership declined and the Free Music School continued to suffer from chronic
money troubles. Soon the Free Music School could not pay Balakirev and had to cut its 187071
series short.[34] The RMS then scored the coup de grce of assigning its programming to Mikhal
Azanchevsky, who also took over as director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1871.
Azanchevsky was more progressively-minded musically than his predecessors, a staunch believer in
contemporary music on the whole and Russian contemporary music in particular.[34] For the opening
concert of the RMS 187172 season, he had conductor Eduard Npravnk present the first public
performances of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet and the polonaise from Mussorgsky's Boris
Godunov.[34] This implicit recognition of Balakirev's ideas made his own concerts seem unnecessary
and redundant.[34] Balakirev then hoped that a solo recital in his hometown of Nizhny Novgorod in
September 1870 would restore his reputation and prove profitable. Neither happenedhe played to
an empty house, and the profits of the recital amounted to 11 rubles.[18] Added to these professional
troubles were the death of his father in June 1869, and the financial responsibility for his younger
sisters resulting from it.[35]
Breakdown and return to music[edit]
In the spring of 1871, rumors circulated that Balakirev had suffered a nervous breakdown. [17] Friends
who visited him found no trace of his former self; in place of his former vivacity, energy and drive,
they found him silent, withdrawn and lethargic.[36] Borodin wrote to Rimsky-Korsakov that he
wondered whether Balakirev's condition was little better than insanity. He was especially concerned
about Balakirev's coolness toward musical matters, and hoped he would not follow the example of
author Nikolai Gogol and destroy his manuscripts.[37] He took a five-year break from music,[34] and
withdrew from his musical friends,[17] but did not destroy his manuscripts; instead he stacked them
neatly in one corner of his house.[38] In his mental state, he neglected to give up his post as director
of the Free Music School, and the directors of the school were at a loss as to what to do. [39] He finally
resigned in 1874 and was replaced by Rimsky-Korsakov.[39] Nikolai Rubinstein offered him a
professorship at the Moscow Conservatory but he refused, stating that his musical knowledge was
basically empirical and that he did not have enough knowledge of music theory to take on such a
position.[40] Financial distress forced Balakirev to become a railway clerk on the Warsaw railroad line
in July 1872.[17]
Balakirev's grave at Tikhvin Cemetery

In 1876, Balakirev slowly began reemerging into the music world, but without the intensity of his
former years.[17] Stasov wrote Rimsky-Korsakov in July that Balakirev was busy composing his
symphonic poem Tamara but still did not wish to see any of his old musical circle, "for there would be
talks about music, which he would not have under any circumstances. Nevertheless he inquires
about everything with interest..."[41] Balakirev also began sending individuals to Rimsky-Korsakov for
private lessons in music theory.[42] This paved the way for Rimsky-Korsakov to make occasional visits
to Balakirev.[42] By the autumn these visits had become frequent. [43] Also, Lyudmilla Shestarova asked
him to edit Glinka's works for publication, in consort with Anatoly Lyadov and Rimsky-Korsakov.[17]
In 1881, Balakirev was offered the directorship of the Moscow Conservatory, along with the
conductorship of the Moscow branch of the Russian Musical Society. Perhaps keeping in mind his
experience with the Saint Petersburg branch of the Russian Musical Society years earlier, he
declined the position. Instead, he resumed the directorship of the Free School of Music. [44] In 1882 he
finished Tamara and revised his "symphonic picture" 1,000 Years two years later, retitling it Rus.[45] In
1883, he was appointed director of the Imperial Chapel; Rimsky-Korsakov eventually became his
assistant. He held this post until 1895, when he took his final retirement and composed in earnest.
Between 1895 and 1910 he completed two symphonies, a piano sonata and two movements of
his Second Piano Concerto, along with republishing his collection of folk-song arrangements.[46]
While Balakirev resumed musical Tuesday gatherings at his home by the 1880s, it was music
patron Mitrofan Belyayev who became a fixture of the Russian classical music scene at this time.
Some composers, including Alexander Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov, initially attended these
meetings. However, Balakirev's modest gatherings eventually proved no match for Belyayev's lavish
Friday gatherings, nor could he compete with the commissions, prizes and performances that
Belyayev offered.[44] Balakirev did not take advantage of Belyayev's services in these areas, as he felt
that they promoted inferior music, and lowered the quality of Russian music. [47]Musicologist Richard
Taruskin asserts that another reason Balakirev did not participate with the Belyayev circle was that
he was not comfortable participating in a group at which he was not at its center.[48] The exception to
this was Balakirev's collection of folk songs, to which Belyayev bought the rights after the death of
the songs' initial publisher.[47]Otherwise, Balakirev remained without a publisher until 1899, when he
met the Saint Petersburg music publisher J.H. Zimmermann. It was through Zimmermann's efforts
that Balakirev prepared several works for publication, including his two symphonies. [49]
Unlike his earlier days, when he played works in progress at gatherings of The Five, Balakirev
composed in isolation. He was aware that younger composers now considered his compositional
style old-fashioned.[46] Except initially for Glazunov, whom he brought to Rimsky-Korsakov as a
prodigy, and his later acolyte Sergei Lyapunov, Balakirev was ignored by the younger generation of
Russian composers.[49]
Balakirev died on 29 May 1910 and was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky
Monastery in Saint Petersburg.

Personal life[edit]
Balakirev apparently never married nor had any children since none is mentioned in biographical
sources. In his earlier days he was politically liberal, a freethinker and an atheist; for a while, he
considered writing an opera based on Chernishevsky's nihilistic novel What is to Be Done?.[50] For a
while in the late 1860s he frequented a soothsayer to learn his fate with the Russian Musical Society.
Rimsky-Korsakov wrote of these sessions, "Balakirev, who did not believe in God, became a believer
in the Devil. The Devil brought it about that subsequently he came to believe in God too ... [T]he
soothsaying ... cast a terror upon him".[51]
Following his breakdown, Balakirev sought solace in the strictest sect of Russian Orthodoxy,
dating his conversion to the anniversary of his mother's death in March 1871. [17]The exact
circumstances of that conversion are unknown, as no letters or diaries of his from this period have
survived. Rimsky-Korsakov relates some of Balakirev's extremes in behavior at this pointhow he
had "given up eating meat, and ate fish, but ... only those which had died, never the killed variety";
how he would remove his hat and quickly cross himself whenever he passed by a church; and how
his compassion for animals reached the point that whenever an insect was found in a room, he
would carefully catch it and release it from a window, saying, "Go thee, deary, in the Lord,
go!"[52] Balakirev lived as a recluse in a house filled with dogs, cats and religious icons. [40] The
exception to this reclusiveness was the musical Tuesday evenings he held after his return to music
in the 1870s and 80s. He also became a political reactionary and "xenophobic Slavophile who wrote
hymns in honor of the dowager empress and other members of the royal family." [53]
Rimsky-Korsakov mentions that some of Balakirev's character traits were present before his
conversion but became intensified afterward.[54] This was true of his general intolerance of viewpoints
other than his own, but especially so with his anti-Semitism.[54] His attacks on Anton Rubinstein in the
1860s became petty and anti-Semitic,[13] and Jews were not admitted to the Free School during his
earlier directorship.[55] However, it was after his conversion that he suspected everyone he disliked to
be of Jewish origin, and that he hated the Jews in general because they had crucified Christ. [54] He
became belligerent in his religious conversations with friends, insistent that they cross themselves
and attend church with him.[56] "All this medley of Christian meekness, backbiting, fondness for
beasts, misanthropy, artistic interests, and a triviality worthy of an old maid from a hospice, all these
struck everyone who saw him in those days", Rimsky-Korsakov wrote, adding that these traits
intensified further in subsequent years.[57]

See also: List of compositions by Mily Balakirev
Mily Balakirev at the time he taught "The Five."

Balakirev became important in the history of Russian music through both his works and his
leadership. More so than Glinka, he helped set the course for Russian orchestral music and Russian
lyrical song during the second half of the 19th century. While he learned from Glinka certain methods
of treating Russian folk song instrumentally, a bright, transparent orchestral technique (something he
also learned from the works of Hector Berlioz) and many elements of his basic style, he developed
and expanded upon what he had learned, fusing it satisfactorily with then-advanced Romantic
compositional techniques.[58]
Unfortunately, the protracted composition of several works robbed Balakirev of the credit for their
inventiveness. Pieces which could have won success had they been completed in the 1860s and
70s made a much smaller impact when they were introduced much later in the composer's life. This
was because they had been overtaken stylistically by the accomplishments of younger composers,
and because some of their compositional devices were appropriated by other members of The Five
the most notable example of the latter is Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, which was influenced
by Balakirev's symphonic poem Tamara.[49] Another consequence was a tendency to overwork
details, which robbed these pieces of freshness of inspiration and made then seem "overdone". [59]
Despite the protracted composition period, there was no discernible difference, especially in the two
symphonies, between the sections completed in the 1860s and those written much later. Zetlin
asserts that while there was no diminution of Balakirev's creative talent, the reason for this lack of
disparity was because Balakirev "had ceased to evolve" as an artist; he remained creatively at the
point he had reached in the 1860s, "and his newest works seemed thus merely an echo of the
Perhaps because Balakirev's initial musical experience was as a pianist, composers for his own
instrument influenced the repertory and style of his compositions. He wrote in all the genres
cultivated by Frdric Chopin except the Ballade, cultivating a comparable charm. The other
keyboard composer who influenced Balakirev was Franz Liszt, apparent in Islamey as well as in his
transcriptions of works by other composers and the symphonic poemTamara.[49]
Balakirev's affinity with Glinka's music becomes most apparent in his handling of folk material.
However, Balakirev advances on Glinka's technique of using "variations with changing
backgrounds," reconciling the compositional practices of classical music with the idiomatic treatment
of folk song, employing motivic fragmentation, counterpoint and a structure exploiting key
Between his two Overtures on Russian Themes, Balakirev became involved with folk song collecting
and arranging. This work alerted him to the frequency of the Dorian mode, the tendency for many
melodies to swing between the major key and its relative minor on its flat seventh key, and the
tendency to accentuate notes not consistent with dominant harmony. These characteristics were
reflected in Balakirev's handling of Russian folk song.[62]
Since the musical views of The Five tended to be anti-German, it is easy to forget that Balakirev was
actually well-grounded in German symphonic styleall the more impressive when it is remembered
that Balakirev was essentially self-taught as a composer. His King Lear overture, written when he
was 22, is not a symphonic poem in the vein of Liszt but actually more along the lines of Beethoven's
concert overtures, relying more on the dramatic qualities of sonata form than on extramusical
Russian style: The Overtures[edit]
With his First Overture on Russian Themes, Balakirev focused on writing symphonic works with
Russian character. He chose his themes from folk song collections available at the time he
composed the piece, taking Glinka's Kamarinskaya as a model in taking a slow song for the
introduction, then for the fast section choosing two songs compatible in structure with
the ostinato pattern of the Kamarinskaya dance song. Balakirev's use of two songs in this section
was an important departure from the model, as it allowed him to link the symphonic process of
symphonic form with Glinka's variations on an ostinato pattern, and in contrasting them treat the
songs symphonically instead of merely decoratively.[64]
The Second Overture on Russian Themes shows an increased sophistication as Balakirev utilizes
Beethoven's technique of deriving short motifs from longer themes so that those motifs can be
combined into a convincing contrapuntal fabric. As such it can stand on its own as an example of
abstract motivic-thematic composition, yet since it uses folk songs in doing so, it can also be looked
upon as making a statement about nationality.[62] In this overture he shows how folk songs could be
given symphonic dimensions while paying particular attention to the element
of protyazhnaya or melismatically elaborated lyric song. This type of song is characterized by
extreme rhythmic flexibility, asymmetrical phrase structure and tonal ambiguity. Incorporating these
elements meant employing the tonal instability of folk song in larger structures by relying on
tonal indeterminacy. The structure of this overture departs from the classic tonal relationships
of tonic and dominant, coming close to the tonal experiments of Liszt and Robert Schumann.[65]
Like his contemporaries in The Five, Balakirev believed in the importance of program musicmusic
written to fulfill a program inspired by a portrait, poem, story or other non-musical source. Unlike his
compatriots, the musical form always came first for Balakirev, not the extramusical source, and his
technique continued to reflect the Germanic symphonic approach. Nevertheless, Balakirev's
overtures played a crucial role in the emergence of Russian symphonic music in that they introduced
the musical style now considered "Russian." His style was adapted by his compatriots and others to
the point of becoming a national characteristic. The opening of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov bears a
close resemblance to the first theme of Balakirev's Second Overture, while Borodin's In the Steppes
of Central Asia begins with a dominant pedal extending over 90 bars in the upper register of the
violins, a device Balakirev used in his First Overture. The opening of Tchaikovsky's Little
Russian Symphony in its original form also shows Balakirev's influence. [66]
Progressive development: First Symphony[edit]
Balakirev began his First Symphony after completing the Second Overture but cut work short to
concentrate on the Overture on Czech Themes, recommencing on the symphony only 30 years later
and not finishing it until 1897. Letters from Balakirev to Stasov and Cui indicate that the first
movement was two-thirds completed and the final movement sketched out, though he would supply
a new theme for the finale many years later. While he was waiting until the finale to incorporate folk
material, he was anxious to incorporate a new Russian element, somewhat religious in nature, into
the opening movement.[67] The symphonic design for this movement is highly unusual. The slow
introduction announces the motif on which the allegro vivo is based. While the allegro vivo is a three
part structure, it differs from sonata form in having an exposition, a second exposition and a
development instead of the usual order of exposition-development-recapitulation. This means that
after the actual exposition, the thematic material is developed in two places, with the second
exposition actually being an elaboration of the first. Formally, the process is one of progressive
development, divided into three stages of increasing complexity. If this was how Balakirev had
actually planned the movement in 1864, it would predate the late symphonies of Jean Sibelius in
utilizing this compositional principle.[68]
Orientalism: Tamara[edit]
Balakirev also further cultivated the orientalism of Glinka's opera Ruslan and Lyudmila, making it a
more consistent style. It appears in the Georgian Song of 1861, Islamey andTamara. This style
comprises two parts: a languorous vein of slow, sinuous melody with ornamentation and slow-
moving harmonic progressions, contrasted with a more ecstatic vein marked by a perpetuum
mobile at a fast tempo and rapid melodic contours over a slower-moving harmonic changes. This
style on one hand evoked the mystery of the distant, exotic east with which Russia did not have
direct contact, and on the other hand could also be used to refer to recently colonized areas of the
Russian Empire.[62]
Tamara is considered by some to be Balakirev's greatest work as well as a touchstone of
orientalism. Originally he intended to write a lezginka modeled after Glinka. However, he was
inspired by the poetry of Mikhail Lermontov about the seductress Tamara, who waylays travelers in
her tower at the gorge of Daryal and allows them to savor a night of sensual delights before killing
them and flinging their bodies into the River Terek. [69] Balakirev evokes both the poem's setting of the
mountains and gorges of the Caucasus and the angelic and demonically seductive power of the title
character. The narrative employs a wide musical range, with the composer supplying great subtlety
within a satisfying structure.[62]

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2 Jan 1837 - 29 May 1910 (age 73)

Mily Balakirev, 19th century Russian

conductor, composer, educator. He was
the leader of the group known as the
'Mighty Five' made up of Borodin,
Mussorgsky, Cui and Rimsky Korsakov.





Portrait by Paul Helm


Born: Mili Alekseyevich Balakirev, 2 Jan

1837, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Father: Alexei Konstantinovich, civil
Mother: Elizavetta Ivanova Yasherova
Siblings: none
Partners: none
Children: none
Died: 29 May 1910, St Petersburg
Grave: Tikhvin Cemetery at the
Alexander Nevsky Monastery in Saint
Petersburg. see findagrave
Balakirev the man

A difficult man. By all accounts he was despotic, rude, tactless and obstinate. Nevertheless
through his enormous talent and strong personality he managed to inspire his followers and
instill an enthusiasm for his passion for Russian music.
When he was 21 he had an attack of 'brain fever' and for the rest of his life suffered from
severe headaches and acute depression. He also became a bigoted Orthodox Christian.


Period/Style: Romantic. Russian

Output: considerable
Influenced by Glinka, Berlioz, Chopin,
Liszt, Russian folk music
Influenced: Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky,
Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky
- 2 symphonies
- 2 piano concertos
- Tamara, symphonic poem
- 2 overtures on Russian themes
- King Lear, incidental music
- anthems, hymns, cantatas
- over 40 songs
- many solos and duets
including Islamey (oriental fantasy)


- Age 4: First piano lessons from his mother and local musicians.
- Age 10: His mother took him to Moscow for a course of 10 piano lessons with Alexander
After the death of his mother he boarded at the Alexandrovsky Institute. Here his talents
came to the attention of Alexander Ulybyshev, a local landlord, music lover and patron who
entrusted the young Malakirev's musical education to the pianist Karl Eisrich.
- Age 16: Studied mathematics at Kazan University (his father opposed a musical career)
Won a reputation as a pianist and earned money by giving piano lessons.
- Age 18: Ulybyshev took him to St Peterburg to meet Glinka who was impressed with his
talent and encouraged him to take up a career in music. Glinka also inspired in him a
passion for Russian nationalism.
- Age 19: played his first Piano Concerto at a university concert.
- Age 20: Glinka died. The following year Ulybyshev also died leaving him without support
and patronage.
He published some songs and made a living by giving piano lessons and evening recitals for
the local aristocracy.
- Age 21: 'Brain fever' attack followed by a long period of severe depression.
- Age 25: Established the Free School of Music together with Gabriel Lomakin and the help
of Tzar Nicolas.
Among the students were Cesar Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin who under
the leadership of Balakirev became known as 'The Five' or 'The Mighty Handful'.
- Age 35 - 39: following various personal and artistic problems he gave up music and
worked as a railway clerk.
- Age 40: Gradually returned to music and resumed his work at the Free School of Music.
- Age 46 - 57: Director of the Imperial Chapel.
- Age 63 onwards: spent his last 10 years in retirement.
- Age 73: died on May 29, 1910 and was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander
Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg.

Some Videos:


Fantasy on 'A Life for the Tzar'

King Lear overture

Symphony No2