Modest Mussorgsky Biography

Read on to know all about the childhood, life and timeline of the brilliant Russian composer, Modest Mussorgsky.

Modest Mussorgsky
Quick Facts

Birthday: March 21, 1839

Nationality: Russian

Famous: Russian Men Aries Musicians

Died At Age: 42

Sun Sign: Aries

Also Known As: Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky

Born in: Toropets

Famous as: Composer and Songwriter

Died on: March 28, 1881

place of death: Saint Petersburg

Continue Reading Below

Modest Mussorgsky was born in a well reputed family, Mussorgsky, who were considered the descendants of the first Ruthenian ruler, Ryurik. He started receiving piano lessons from his mother since the age of 6. Later, in his youth he also served at a military hospital in Saint Petersburg after he completed his studies at School for Cadets of the Guard. His compositions were largely Romantic and had a lot of Russian musical themes. One of his most renowned pieces is the single-movement orchestral work, ‘Night on Bald Mountain’. His talents as a song writer are evident from his melodious songs like the three song cycles; The Nursery (1872), Sunless (1874) and Songs and Dances of Death (1877). His musical talents soon got eclipsed by his raging alcoholism. He spent his last days in a Saint Petersburg tavern. Later, in 1881 he suffered attacks of alcoholic epilepsy and died soon after his 42nd birthday.

Recommended Lists:

Recommended Lists:

Continue Reading Below

Early life  
Born in a noble landowner family, Modest Mussorgsky learned his first lessons in piano from his mother. When he turned nine, Mussorgsky already started performing John Field concerto and also works by Franz Liszt for family and friends. The very next year, he was enrolled to the elite Peterschule or St. Peter's School. The musical prodigy then went ahead to publish a piano piece called ‘Porte-enseigne Polka’, which was funded by his father. The family tradition of military service was carried on by Mussorgsky, as he joined the Cadet School of the Guards at age of 13. There he continued to take piano lessons with the General’s daughter. He graduated from the school in 1856 receiving commission with the Preobrazhensky Regiment. While in service, he developed friendship with Alexander Borodin and Alexander Dargomyzhsky, the famous Russian composers who had profound impact on his musical career. During this time, at Dargomyzhsky's soirées, Mussorgsky also made acquaintance with Mily Balakirev, under whom he learned advanced music lessons.
Musical Career
Mussorgsky decided to dedicate his life to music and resigned his commission in 1858. The next year he joined Mikhail Glinka’s opera ‘A Life for the Tsar’ on the Glebovo estate. He produced a four-hand piano sonata in 1860 which is his only movement in sonata form. He then composed Intermezzo in modo classico for piano solo which took three years to complete. By this time, he had finished his studies with Balakirev and started to self-tutor himself in piano. In the same year, he began to work on an opera called ‘Salammbô’ for which he spent three years of his life. But, his musical career came to a standstill after his mother died in 1865. This led him into alcoholism or dipsomania. In 1867, he finished the original orchestral version of his ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ which is his most famous composition. In 1868, Mussorgsky worked to arrange the first eleven scenes of Nikolai Gogol's ‘The Marriage’. During 1868-1869, he composed an opera depicting the life of the Tsars which was rejected by Mariinsky Opera. Later, he made a few changes to the opera and the new version was accepted in May, 1872. But his alcoholism made him drift away from his circle of friends.
Last days
His alcoholism worsened his situation in later phases of his life. His later year’s compositions include Sunless, the Khovanschina Prelude, and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition, and an opera based on Gogol, The Fair at Sorochyntsi. In 1881 he suffered four seizures. Though, his physical condition improved for some weeks, but, he soon relapsed and passed away on March 28, 1881, a week after his 42nd birthday. He was interred at the Tikhvin Cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in Saint Petersburg.
Important compositions
Most of his compositions were romantic in style and drew inspiration from Russian history and folklore. His symphonies bear influence of artists like Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. Here is a list of some of his famous works.
  • Souvenir of Childhood, 1857
  • Intermezzo in the Classic Style, 1860
  • St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain, 1867
  • Boris Godunov, 1868
  • Khovanshchina, 1872
  • Pictures from an Exhibition, 1874
  • Transcaucasian Suite, 1880
  • Three Vocalises, 1880
  • Five Russian Folksongs, 1880



Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was born in Karevo, Russia.


His mother started to give him his first musical lesson in piano.


He performed a John Field concerto for family and relatives.


Started attending the elite Peterschule (St. Peter's School) with his brother.


Published his first piano piece called ‘Porte-enseigne Polka’.


Mussorgsky Joined the Cadet School of the Guards.


Graduated from Cadet School and received a commission with the Preobrazhensky Regiment.


Resigned commission to dedicate his life solely to music.


Mussorgsky joined Glinka's opera ‘A Life for the Tsar’.


Produced his first a four-hand piano sonata.


Composed ‘Intermezzo in modo classico’ for piano solo.


Started working on an opera called ‘Salammbô’.


His mother died.


Mussorgsky started to work on of Nikolai Gogol's ‘The Marriage (Zhenitba)’ but left it in the mid-way.


Started working on his greatest production, ‘Boris Godunov’, which got completed in February, 1874.


Died on 28th March.

How To Cite

Article Title
- Modest Mussorgsky Biography
- Editors,
Last Updated
- November 02, 2017

People Also Viewed

Yung Gravy
Buddy Bolden
Russell Crowe
(New Zealander)
Andy Fowler

Aaron Neville
Avril Lavigne
(Canadian, French)
Billy Joel
Rory Feek