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Ten Pieces - Modest Mussorgsky
Mussorgsky wrote an opera based on the life of a Russian hero.

Ten Pieces - Modest Mussorgsky

If you are familiar with the BBC Ten Pieces, you will enjoy this KS2 Music quiz about the Russian composer, Modest Mussorgsky.

Mussorgsky was a lover of Russian culture, including its folklore and its music, and his works have a uniquely Russian identity. Many of his pieces, like Night on Bare Mountain for example, were based on Russian history or legend. Along with Balakirev, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, Mussorgsky was one of a group of composers who became known as ‘The Five’ or 'The Mighty Handful'.

His parents may have had him baptised as 'Modest', yet Mussorgsky went on to write some towering music! What do you know about the man and his work? Try this quiz and find out.

As with many great composers, Mussorgsky had a young start with his music. What was his first significant help with this?
His father was a good-amateur violinist
His mother was a trained pianist
His uncle was the local bandmaster
They lived next door to the organist of the nearby church
This was obviously going to be helpful, whether through 'nature or nurture'!
Which of these is the most accurate summary of Mussorgsky's early musical milestones?
He began piano lessons aged 6, and had played his first concerto before he turned 10
He learned the violin from the age of 4 and appeared in public, in a quartet, while aged 9
He joined the church choir, also learnt the organ and accompanied his first service on the eve of his 11th birthday
He borrowed a spare trumpet while he was 5 and played his first public solo at the age of 8
... Not quite up there with Mozart, but hardly a slouchy start. Could you play a piano concerto before your 10th birthday?
In which Russian city did he go away to school during his teenage years?
St Petersburg
This was then Russia's capital, with its warm-water access down into Europe through the Baltic Sea
At the age of 17, Mussorgsky was working in a military hospital where he met a colleague just 5 years his senior: this other man, though working as a chemist and surgeon, was to become a friend and fellow-composer in a group known as 'the Five'. Who was he?
Nikolai Balakirev
Alexander Borodin
Cesar Cui
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
The others of The Five are all there in our list, but Borodin was the one on this occasion. Try listening to his infectiously tuneful Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, for instance ...
Mussorgsky, too, while writing and playing plenty of music, needed a 'day job'. What was his main career?
He was a professional commissioned soldier
He was a Civil Servant
He became a senior hospital administrator
He worked in administration on the new railways
Some of his bosses did what they could to send him on postings where he could also give concert performances
Many great composers have had to struggle with personal difficulties, no different from 'ordinary folk'; what was Mussorgsky's particular problem?
A close family tragedy during his early childhood
He had a chronic respiratory condition that often left him painfully short of breath
He became a serious alcoholic
His wife was unable to bear them any children
Sadly, there is an alarming portrait on Wikipedia's page about Mussorgsky, painted barely a week before his early death aged only 42. His particular 'demons' seem to have come from within, rather than the encroaching blindness or deafness of several other composers. For the record, Answer 4 is a complete red-herring as Mussorgsky never married
Another of Mussorgsky's best-loved works is a suite of piano pieces called Pictures at an Exhibition, written in response to a memorial show of paintings by Hartmann, an architect friend who had recently died. (The pictures since seem to have been dis-united and lost track of: it would be interesting to see them again!) Mussorgsky's original version was for piano solo, but the set has become even more widely known in an orchestral version by which French composer?
Claude Debussy
Maurice Ravel
Cecile Chaminade
Camille Saint-Saens
Among the suite's quieter movements is The Old Castle, in whose original picture (fairly easily imagined) a lone minstrel is playing in the sunset below the castle walls: Ravel brilliantly gives this plaintive tune to the saxophone
Mussorgsky also wrote an opera based on the life of a Russian hero: which one?
Eugene Onegin
Taras Bulba
Boris Godunov
Anton Pavlov
Answer 1 was the work of Tchaikovsky, and Answer 2 by Janacek; Pavlov (Ans.4) was a psychologist, but at least he worked (later) in the same hospital where the encounter in our Q.4 had occurred
While there are a gravestone and memorials elsewhere, the patch of land where Mussorgsky's remains are buried was redeveloped in the Soviet era. What stands there now?
A supermarket
A petrol station
A postbox and public telephone
A bus stop
So sad! For collectors of such details of the famous, there may be worse elsewhere ...
In which year had Mussorgsky finished composing Night on the Bare Mountain?
... So, at time of writing (spring 2015), it is 150 years or thereabouts since he began it. Very sadly he never actually heard it performed in his lifetime, but these days you can experience it 'live' or in recorded form at the touch of a couple of buttons. Enjoy!
You can find more about this topic by visiting BBC - KS2: Modest Mussorgsky - A Night on the Bare Mountain

Author:  Ian Miles

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