Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Unknown Mussorgsky

One of the most amazing things about classical music is that its' hundreds of years of archives is so vast and so far flung that year by year there are endless revelations of lost masterpieces newly completed versions or recovered or reconstructed variants from living or historical figures. This is true of so eminent and well known a figure as Beethoven; the case of the symphonies and piano sonatas of varying number of Schubert and in the realm of opera the gigantic and chaotic figure of Modest Mussorgsky.There is no telling except in the most general sense exactly what the Met will be presenting this Saturday,except that the exquisite Olga Borodina will be singing (I assume the mysterious fortune teller Marfa) and that the music will be by one to five of the greatest musical composers and that one of them will be music generally unknown of Modest Mussorgsky.
So many hands have attempted something like a complete or performable Khovanschina or the Khovansky Affair that the list itself is self recommending. There have been at least three premiers: St. Petersburg 1886; Paris, 1911 and finally Leningrad 1960. The first by Mussorgsky himself with  amendments by Rimsky-Korsakov; the second with additions by Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky as part of a season by the Russian Ballet and then another resurrection by no less a figure than Dimitri Shostakovich
As an aside one of the more interesting aspects of the drama is the composer as one of the central fictive characters, a scrivener, a secretary cum civil servant that relates the story. Mussorgsky having lost the family fortune with the liberation of the serfs he held just such a governmental post himself.
What drew such an array of genius to a single score? Inspiration and incompletion on an epic scale. It was discovered among the papers at Mussorgsky's death that he had written a six scene epic drama drawn from Russian history, with whole sections unfinished. Too beautiful to be allowed to linger in obscurity, too fragmentary to present as it was. What is the plot? In general terms nothing less a turning point in Russian history: the Westernizing of Russia, the rise to power of Peter the Great and the struggle and result of these affairs in Russian society. What Khovanchina sets itself to dramatize is nothing less than the cultural transformation of a people. The result is a mortal struggle between historical and fictive figures that represent the reactionary nobility that plots Peters replacement or murder; the church scandalized and in revolt by the prospect of societal reform and the loss of power and the army and militia attempting to foment a family rivalry by the Romanov siblings themselves. Ironically Peter the Great, the figure at the center of this cataclysm, could not be represented on stage! To bring a Romanov to dramatic representation was against the law. Political intrigue,class conflict, secular-religious antagonism, feuding aristocratics and finally an ending hinting at mass suicide by the defeated. At the center of this rival lovers and a fortune teller who moves between and connects these disparate sections of society . 
Tune in this Saturday at noon for a musical representation of a whole world in conflict, Mussorgsky's Khovanchina, here on KPAC and KTXI.
By Ron Moore

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