- Hardcover: 496 pages
- Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (7 Nov. 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0571245625
- ISBN-13: 978-0571245628
- Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 4 x 24 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 737,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Musorgsky and His Circle: A Russian Musical Adventure Hardcover – 7 Nov 2013
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'A fascinating story of rival ideological factions and vendettas ... Stephen Walsh has told this story superbly in a consistently gripping narrative ... Only someone with the deepest knowledge and understanding could write so lucidly, sympathetically and convincingly. I confidently predict that this wonderful book will be among the pick of the year.' (Classical Music Magazine)
Stephen Walsh is as good a guide as you could want ... his writing sound, sharp-witted and musically insightful ... Brilliant. (Sunday Telegraph)
Musorgsky and his Circle offers many original insights ... an illuminating study of the dark preoccupations and insecurities that beset the heart of Russian culture, then as now. (Norman Lebrecht Wall Street Journal)
A magisterial new study of one of the most melancholy chapters of musical history ... It constructs a richly detailed and absorbing saga of a remarkable cultural phenomenon. (Rupert Christiansen Literary Review)
Musorgsky and His Circle: A Russian Musical Adventure, by Stephen Walsh, is an accessible and thought-provoking biography of Modest Musorgsky (or 'Mussorgsky'), creators of some of the best-known and most admired Russian music of the nineteenth century.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
The present book is the first one to attempt a continuous story of the Kuchka without separate chapters on each composer. However, by doing so Stephen Walsh is in fact writing a history of Russian music in the second half of the nineteenth century without giving its main composer his due. Nonetheless, because Tchaikovsky was well acquainted with the kuchkists, he is often mentioned.
Musorgsky's name figures in the title as being the most famous and talented one. Indeed, more space is devoted to him than to any of the others. After his premature death in 1881, the exploits of the remaining four, till Cui’s death in 1918, are treated in twenty pages. In fact, the kuchka as such had dissolved in the seventies. The last fifty pages are used for notes and index.
However, no clear choice was apparently made between describing Musorgsky’s life and works and the former members of the kuchka, who did remain in close contact and were responsible for the fate of Musorgsky’s works after his death. However, telling the whole story would require a work the size of Walsh’s book on Stravinsky. The story begins with the arrival of the young Balakirev in St.Petersburg in 1855, where he met Mikhail Glinka and Cesar Cui. The first one went down in history as “The Father of Russian Music”, the second one would have passed into oblivion, had he not been a founding member of the Kuchka.Read more ›
I get the feeling that today editors acquire, but don't edit. And I know that there are no proofreaders anymore, just spell-checkers (which don't "know" anything -- hence "there" for "their" and vice versa).
But Walsh has jammed a great deal of information into this volume and it's worth winkle-ing out.
The book deals not only with Mussorgsky, but also with many of the other C19 Russian composers and is an interesting read. One of the best things about it is that it is available on Kindle for a much more reasonable price than the hardback version.
There is, however, still room for books on C19 Russian music that delve rather more deeply, and with more apparent original research.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
What one does get from this painstakingly researched book is the emergence of a body of work from absolutely nowhere, in a country with no art music tradition, a brand new conservatoire, and almost no concert series, and how, in a generation, the composers highlighted (the 'Mighty Handful' - Musorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev and Cui) forged a Russian nationalist style which sowed the seeds for an explosion of music-making. The retelling of these birth pangs makes for compelling reading, as do the roots of the ideology of creating a national style, and the frictions of this very disparate group of creators forced to appear as a united vanguard for a new world of music. I also liked how the account is chronological, switching back and forth from the creative endeavours of each composer. There are many perceptive insights into the chronic lack of basic training that is the strength and paralyzing weakness of this bunch, which resulted in several very well known torsos being left (the operas Prince Igor and Khovanshchina above all) and a sense of incredible promise, talent,and in fact, genius, frittered away and wasted.
This book is aimed for the musically literate, even if there are almost no musical examples, some of the theoretical explanations require prior knowledge of the works in hand and assume technical knowledge to follow - even so these do not dominate the book and take up only a very small part.
However, one sense that the author is not really passionate about much of this music, and the summary dismissals of old style Russian music criticism occasionally rear their inappropriate heads. While several of Musorgsky's songs are given very amplified and detailed comment, I find it strange that certain works (the 1st symphonies of Borodin and Balakirev) are glanced over, as many writers before have drawn attention to their extremely original construction, that presage the processes of Sibelius. As usual, Rimsky is condescended to - while Scheherazade may not be the most profound work in the repertoire, its narrative vitality has surely by now warranted it a place in the pantheon of great pieces. It would have been interesting to see a book like this reverse some of these hoary old received opinions.
Towards the end of the book, there is surely an opportunity lost in the chapters that deal with the influence these composers had. For example Debussy is mentioned, but only in the light of Mussorgsky, whereas the lush sound world and formal freedom of Rimsky's 'Antar' and Balakirev's 'Tamara' - both commented on in Debussy's own writings are omitted. And far more damaging, having commented on all the unfinished lives work (Musorgsky and Borodin), there should surely have been a chapter on how these composers legacies were posthumously managed, edited and published, and again, how all of this music was disseminated to the west, through Diaghilev and others - only becoming widely known (and potently influential) some 40 years after its creation.
While a critical stance is welcome, and one would not a book like this to be partisan, the impression left at times is that of a lack of enthusiasm for some of the subject, and a slight indifference to much of the material. A useful survey, but not as complete as it could have been.