Like many of Mussorgsky's works, Khovanshchina (The Khovansky rising) was left unfinished at the composer's death. This 5-act historical epic, dealing with the political turbulence following the death of Tsar Fyodor, was first suggested to the composer as the basis for an opera in 1872. Although most of the music was written in 1873 and 1875-6 Mussorgsky continued working on the opera until August of 1880.
When the composer died in 1881, Rimsky-Korsakov set about preparing many of his friend's works for publication. He completed and orchestrated Khovanshchina, allowing it to be performed for the first time by an amateur group in St. Petersburg on 21 February 1886. For the first Paris production in 1913, passages ommitted by Rimsky-Korsakov were orchestrated by Ravel and Stravinsky. A version more faithful to Mussorgsky's original vision was later recreated by Lamm and Asaf'yev, and even Shostakovich produced a version for a. 1959 film!
In whatever version it is heard, Khovanshchina contains some of Mussorgsky's best lyrical writing. Popular extracts include the Prelude and the Dance of the Persian Slaves.
Mussorgsky was taught the piano from an early age by his mother, and at the age of nine played a concerto by Field to an audience in his parents’ house. In 1852 he entered the Guards’ Cadet School in St. Petersburg. He tried to write an opera in 1856, even though he had not studied harmony or composition. He joined the Guards in the same year. In 1857 he met Dargomïzhsky and Cui, and through them Balakirev and Stasov. This was the beginning of The ‘Big Five’, or ‘Mighty Handful’, consisting of Mussorgsky, Balakirev, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin. Mussorgsky persuaded Balakirev to give him lessons, and he composed some songs and piano sonatas.
In 1858 he resigned his commission, and the next year, after an inspirational visit to Moscow, his works began to be performed in public. But he remained uneasy about his life, and started to write music which he then abandoned. He worked in the Ministry of Communications and lived in a commune with five other young men. In 1865 his mother died and he developed dipsomania. Two years later he lost his job. Mussorgsky spent the summer of that year at his brother’s house, where his compositions included his first important orchestral work, St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain.
Early in 1869 Mussorgsky reentered government service and completed the original version of the opera Boris Godunov. After some difficulty and much re-writing, it was eventually staged in February 1874. Despite an increasing dependence on alcohol, which reduced his ability to concentrate on composing, he continued to write such music as Pictures at an Exhibition. This was written for the piano and only arranged for orchestra by Maurice Ravel after Mussorgsky’s death. In 1878, his director at the Ministry allowed him to leave for a three-month concert tour with the contralto Darya Leonova. After he left government service in January 1880, Leonova helped provide him with employment and a home. However, on the 23 February the next year he went to her in a state of despair, rambling about having nothing to live for. He was taken to hospital and found to be suffering from alcoholic epilepsy. He died there a month later, leaving many of his works unfinished.
-MIDI FILE - Night on the Bare Mountain (11'58'')
Rimsky-Korsakov studied piano and composition as a child, and was fascinated with opera orchestras. He trained, however, as a naval officer. In 1861 he met Balakirev, who encouraged his composition and started to perform his works. As a result, Rimsky-Korsakov abandoned his career as a naval cadet to devote himself entirely to music. Balakirev introduced Rimsky-Korsakov to Borodin, Cui and Mussorgsky, and between them they made up the Russian ‘Big Five’ or ‘Mighty Handful’ of composers. Through Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov also met Dargomïzhsky.
Rimsky-Korsakov studied hard, teaching himself harmony and counterpoint. He wrote songs, orchestral works and an opera, The Maid of Pskov (completed in 1872). Then, in 1871 he became Professor of Orchestration and Composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, rapidly becoming a respected teacher. Here, his pupils included Stravinsky, Glazunov, Prokofiev, Arensky and Lyadov. He also conducted at Balakirev’s Free School and was Inspector of Naval Bands from 1873 to 1884. His next opera, May Night (1880), was his first major comic opera, a genre in which he excelled. He collected folk songs which often had an influence on his music.
His composition was frequently interrupted by his official duties at the Imperial Chapel (1883-91) and advising for the publisher Belyayev. He also set himself the task of completing and revising the work of some of his fellow-composers, such as Borodin’s opera Prince Igor and much of the seemingly uneven writing of his friend Mussorgsky. During 1887 and 1888 he wrote three of his best-known orchestral works, Sheherazade, the Spanish Capriccio and the Russian Easter Festival Overture. After that he spent his time composing operas, including Kitezh (1907) and The Golden Cockerel (1909).
Generally known for his colourful orchestral compositions, Rimsky-Korsakov also wrote songs and choral music, chamber music and works for piano. His textbook on orchestration is widely used.