Mussorgsky, Boris Godunov, 1874

Friday 20th & 27th  October

Pushkin’s Play

Pushkin writing to the poet Vyazemsky “I greet you, my joy, with a romantic tragedy, in which the first person is Boris Godunov! My tragedy is done; I reread it aloud, alone, and clapped my hands and shouted: What a Pushkin, what a son of a bitch!" Based on (one version) of history of “the Time of Troubles”  and written in blank verse, it is subtitled A Dramatic Tale, The Comedy of the Distress of the Muscovite State, of Tsar Boris, and of Grishka [Grigory] Otrepyev. He credited Shakespeare with “the idea of clothing in dramatic forms one of the most dramatic epochs of our history… I imitated Shakespeare in his broad and free depictions of characters, in the simple and careless combination of plots.” (from Wikipedia, about the play)

Mussorgsky and the Russian Soul

Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881) died of alcoholism at 42, leaving works expressing “Russia of wretched peasants, folk tunes, and unearthly legends… His music is appropriately raw and crude-sounding, influenced by peasant dances and bleak winters.” read more.   
A founding member of the "Moguchaya Kuchka" ("the mighty handful"), he worked with its principles that Russian music should express the Russian soul, and – unlike German classical music -  be written in a Russian way. “Instead of a form determining the nature of the musical materials, the materials shaped the forms – bottom-up, rather than top-down.” More analysis of his significance here. He started six operas but finished only one - Boris Godunov. It premiered 1874, and remains the most recorded Russian opera, but it has been cut and reorchestrated several times, including by Rimsky- Korsakov and Shostakovich. Modern appreciation for “the rugged individuality of Mussorgsky's style” has brought more use of his original versions; “music’s equivalent, perhaps, of his younger contemporary, Van Gogh in Starry Night mood.” (Guardian) Few composers were less derivative, or evolved so original and bold a style. [Boris was radical in] setting sharply characterized individuals against the background of country and people. His power of musical portrayal, his strong characterizations, and the importance he assigned to the role of the chorus establish Boris Godunov as a masterpiece. From a technical standpoint, Mussorgsky’s unorthodox use of tonality and harmony and his method of fusing arioso and recitative provide Boris Godunov with great dramatic intensity.  (Britannica)

Our Production

1983 ROH production by Andrei Tarkovsky at the old Mariinsky Theatre, Leningrad (later St Petersburg), 1990, cond. Valery Gergiev. Boris - Robert Lloyd, Prince Shuisky - Yevgeny Boitsov, Grigory (pretender) - Alexei Steblianko