Cover image for The life of Musorgsky
The life of Musorgsky
Emerson, Caryl.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
194 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Childhood and youth, 1839-1856 -- Apprenticeship in St. Petersburg, 1820s-1860s: composers' evenings and the commune -- Conservatories, "circles, " and Musorgsky at the far musical edge -- 1868-1874: Musorgsky and Russian history -- The 1870s: Musorgsky and death -- Beyond tragedy: the final years.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML410.M97 E42 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating
ML410.M97 E42 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Modest Musorgsky is Russia's greatest musical dramatist. When he died in 1881 in St Petersburg at the age of forty-two, in poverty and relative obscurity, he was known for a single opera, Boris Godunov and a handful of eccentric 'realistic' songs set to prosaic Russian texts. He had no institutional connections, no 'degree', no family of his own, not even a permanent address. Except for Franz Liszt, no composer of stature knew of him outside Russia. Through the loyal (if controversial) intervention of his friends, his works survived in various editings into the early twentieth century, when revivals and evolving musical tastes restored him to new life. This account of his life, first published in 1999, emphasizes the psychological and economic factors that contributed to the composer's remarkable rise and tragic, premature end and is the first brief biography in English to make use of materials published in the new, de-Sovietized Russian academic climate.

Author Notes

Caryl Emerson is A. Watson Armour III University Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Lack of facts and confusion about Musorgsky's music, much of which was left unfinished and in multiple versions, have stood in the way of an adequate biography. Compounding the situation have been inaccurate accounts by the composer's librarian friend and first biographer, Vladimir Stasov, and the revisions of various well-meaning music editors, from Rimsky-Korsakov to Dmitri Shostakovich. The Musorgsky glasnost began about a decade ago, and initial results were eventually published in Richard Taruskin's Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue (CH, Jun'93) and Emerson and Robert William Oldani's Modest Musorgsky and Boris Godunov (1994). Emerson (Slavic languages and literature, Princeton) now offers a relatively brief, nontechnical, and elegantly written volume that draws on primary, frequently retranslated documents. Her six chapters follow Musorgsky's life alongside the often-tumultuous, 19th-century Russian cultural milieu. Despite a "musical postlude" by David Geppert (emeritus, Eastman School of Music), the interested reader will have to go elsewhere for a discussion of Musorgsky's music, even for a list of works. Nevertheless, because M.D. Calvocoressi's Mussorgsky (1946; rev. 1962, 1976) is the only comparable alternative, this book is recommended for all collections. M. Meckna; Texas Christian University

Table of Contents

David Geppert
List of illustrationsp. vi
Note on sources and translationsp. viii
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
1 Childhood and youth, 1839-1856p. 1
2 Apprenticeship in St. Petersburg, 1850s-1860s: composers' evenings and the communep. 26
3 Conservatories, "circles," and Musorgsky at the far musical edgep. 55
4 1868-1874: Musorgsky and Russian historyp. 81
5 The 1870s: Musorgsky and deathp. 112
6 Beyond tragedy: the final yearsp. 136
Epilogue: the Musorgsky problem, then and nowp. 157
Musical postlude: Appraising the artistic productp. 169
Notesp. 179
Selected bibliographyp. 188
Indexp. 190