The Famous Five – Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky

Ilya Repin (1844–1930): Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Modest Mussorgsky

It’s not too difficult to pick out the drinker in the two famous portraits by Repin.

Mussorgsky died just a few days after his portrait was completed. Rumour has it that, as a 42nd birthday treat, a ‘friend’ smuggled a bottle of vodka(?) into the hospital where the composer was drying out, Mussorgsky drank it (of course): it killed him.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s portrait tells another story: he had made the transition from the untutored Russianess of The Five to the academic respectability of a professorship at the St. Petersberg Conservatory. In the process he became, not a drinker, but (worse still!!) a reviser. From his new academic stance and armed with counterpoint and ‘Germanic’ harmonic theory he revised and ‘corrected’ not only his own earlier works but also those of Mussorgsky, Glinka, Borodin et al. The results were, from a present-day standpoint, highly dubious, but it was in these ‘Rimsky’ versions that many famous Russian works were (and still are) performed.

Russian Easter Festival Overture
David Zinman – Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival, Overture, Op.36
[Spotify search terms: rimsky easter zinman]

Mussorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death 4. The Field Marshal
Mussorgsky, Modest Petrovich [Composer] – Mussorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death – Orch. D. Shostakovitch – 4. The Field Marshal: “Palkavodets”
[Spotify search terms: mussorgsky palkavodets chicago]

Watch/listen to the Songs and Dances of Death sung by Robert Holl (bass):

Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture

Course materials:
Rimsky-Korsakov short biography

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