No, not me (how dare you) – as is well known, I live a life of simple purity. Lips that touch liquor will never touch mine.
No I refer to Modest Mussorgsky – not perhaps in terms of quantity of works produced, but very much in terms of their quality.
I raise the topic having just returned from a concert of Russian Classics performed by the Sampson Orchestra of Cambridge. A quite stunning concert, with a most enjoyable conductor – I do like a man (or indeed, woman) who really puts their whole body into the conducting. Given the emotional (and in many ways, physical) kick I was obtaining from the Russian music, and my fondness for the works of Dvorak, I do wonder if there is some hitherto undiscovered Slavic blood in my ancestry. Actually, come to mention it, I have been mistaken for a Slav before now…
Anyhow, to return to Modest. Like so many before and since, it seems to have been an early career in the military that started his fatal association with the demon drink. Also like so many composers before and since, he died before he reached my advanced age – which rather puts my all too modest (sorry) achievements (drunk or sober) in their place.
I think I only know two of his works, “Pictures at an Exhibition” and “Night on a Bare Mountain” – the latter being performed tonight. Both tend to be heard as arranged (or re-mixed as believe the current youth would have it) by another – often Rimsky Korsakov who seems to have been the Mark Ronson of his day (both also seem to share the desire to boost the brass section). Tonight though was Mussorgsky’s original version and fully supports his billing as the most innovative of “The Five”. Sadly, Modest himself never heard the piece performed, but did know that his orchestration teacher (and leader of The Five) hated it.
Almost makes you wish for an afterlife: so many artists seem to have been ignored in their own lifetimes (whilst the merely meretricious are often lauded) and the block universe never allows them to know of their later recognition. Ho hum.