Stephen Walsh’s Musorgsky and His Circletells the story of the moguchaya kuchka the “Might Little Heap” of Russian intellectuals surrounding Musorgsky - César Cui, Alexander Borodin, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Mily Balakirev.

In his TLS review of the book, Paul Griffiths points to the inspiration that the circle drew from children: “Walsh, a professor himself, approves of education, but he knows the value, too, of the self-instruction that allowed Musorgsky and Borodin to compose the works they did. In his several pages on, for example, Musorgsky’s song cycle The Nursery, he is astute on the difficult matter of realism, not the least interesting of his insights being into the importance here of the subject: “Observing [children] brought one close to a reality of behaviour and feeling untainted by drawing-room manners or sophisticated passions. They were a readymade starting point for the art of the truthful”. Having portrayed a small child nagging for stories, one could move on to a guilty tsar, or a simpleton lamenting the fate of all Russia. Moreover, to release the inner child might absolutely require a composer innocent of ‘drawing-room manners’ in the art of composition. With Borodin it was rather the same, except that his innocence was what validated the direct and uncomplicated, made possible his epic Second Symphony and his glorious tunefulness.”

More on: Musorgsky, Music

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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