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Musorgsky: His Life and Works (Master Musicians Series) (英語) ハードカバー – 2002/12/5
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This is not only the first life-and-works on Musorgsky in English for over half a century but also the largest such study of the composer ever to have appeared outside Russia. Mussorgsky was one of the towering figures of nineteenth century Russian music - but also one of the most tragic. Largely an amateur with no systematic training in composition, he nevertheless emerged in his first opera, Boris Godunov, as a supreme musical dramatist, presenting here (and in certain of his piano pieces in Pictures at an Exhibition) some of the most startlingly original of all song composers, with a prodigious gift for uncovering the emotional content of a text. His failure to complete his two remaining operas, Khovanshchina and Sorochintsy Fair, before his premature death from alcohol poisoning is one of music's greatest tragedies.
The qualities of clarity and thoroughness familiar to readers of Professor Brown's earlier work are also in evidence here ... his style is straightforward and elegant without pretentiousness, apparently aimed at music lovers as much as those with a scholarly interest. (SEER)
... excellent monograph ... David Brown has done an excellent job in treating Musorgsky in such a lively and yet learned manner ... His magisterial study deserves to be purchased by many music lovers who will find the narrative fluent and the musical analysis approachable. It should also attract musicians and musical scholars who will also discover some new ideas, approaches and materials in its pages. (SEER)
... a no-holds barred biography ... Brown traces his entire output in a rich historical and social context. He ... gives us a new vision of the composer. (New York Times)
... the general reader and specialist alike will value the breadth, clear exposition and enthusiasm in Brown's discussion. (Geoffrey Norris, BBC Music Magazine)
As far as the musical issues, I am also a bit disappointed, if only because there is hardly any ciriticism of any of Mussorgski's very real faults as a composer, as if being a towering genius protects even the most obvious shortcomings as off-limits. Again this is unfortunate. No one loves Mussorgski more than I but as a composer he was far from perfect and I think any appraisal of his work, however laudatory, must also include serious and well intended criticism. For all of Mussorgski's blusterings against so-called "traditional" or "Western" music, I think this was again a self-defense against personal insecurities I believe all artists suffer from. Could he have written a string quartet, or a well-constructed tone-poem, let alone an entire symphony? I think not; and just because this was not "his thing" plus the fact that he also wrote one of the greatest operas ever written (and one of the greatest of all piano works and dozens of first-rate songs), does this (let's face it) tiny output entitle him to a place beside others in the olympian pantheon? I'm glad I don't have to answer this question but I think Mr. Brown is kidding himself if thinks ignoring some very real deficiencies in Mussorgksi's training or even in his greatest works can simply be left unsaid and thus will fade away. This he never discusses and remains for me the book's second major defect. I'm glad I have the book and I recommend it, with reservation, to others but I wish the author (and/or editor) had been a little bit more demanding on the finished product.
The book itself is wonderful, providing all the detail you want about Musorgsky and his music, but not at all tedious. My favorite single musical work is Musorgsky's "Boris Godunov"-- I learned Russian specifically in order to be able to listen to "Boris" without having to refer to someone's translation of the libretto-- and I am always on the lookout for new insights into Musorgsky's thought and sensibilities, and this book delivers.
He records, "It is a notorious fact that the addiction to alcohol that was finally to destroy Musorgsky had its beginning in the four years he spent at the Schools for Guards' Cadets... they point implacably to a situation in which any sensitive boy would have had phases of unutterable misery from which alcohol would have provided the swiftest and most ready means of temporary escape..." (Pg. 5) Later, his friend Borodin noted, "Almost daily he sits in the Maly Yaroslavets restaurant... and gets drunk, sometimes till he's insensible." (Pg. 225)
He observes, "Musorgsky's sexuality has long been a subject for speculation---and such, in the absence of much hard evidence, it is likely to remain." (Pg. 24)
He notes, "yet Boris [Gudunov], unquestionably Musorgsky's greatest work, also provided him with his greatest public triumph. It was also the watershed in his life." (Pg. 228) Sadly, about 'Pictures at an Exhibition,' "There is no record of it ever receiving public performance during Musorgsky's lifetime." (Pg. 231)
In his final illness, alcohol (which had been forbidden to him, but which he obtained by bribing an orderly at the Hospital) caused his final collapse; "Now that the end was imminent, it was decided he must settle all his affairs, and he assigned all his royalty and publishing rights, both present and future, to to Filippov, assessing them at 2000 roubles. In all other regards, Musorgsky died a pauper." (Pg. 358)
This is an excellent book about a composer who is often shrouded in mystery.