Mussorgsky’s Mysticism


Mysticism came easily to Modeste Mussorgsky. A little too easily, according to a letter Mussorgsky wrote to his fellow composer Mili Balakirev, on September 26th, 1860:

“I think you will be interested in how I spent my time in the Moscow countryside. My illness dragged on almost until August so that I could devote myself to music only for short periods of time. All the same I gathered some materials that I’ll need later. Oedipus and the little sonata have progressed somewhat. The sonata is just about ready. Something has to be tidied up in the middle section but the finale works. 0edipus has had two choruses added to it — an andante in B-flat minor and an allegro in E-flat to be used in the introduction.

“Aside from those, I’ve received a very interesting work, which I have to prepare for next summer. It’s an entire act that takes place on Bald Mountain – from Mengden’s drama The Witches’ Sabbath, individual episodes of sorcerers, a solemn march for all this wickedness, and finale — the glorification of the Sabbath in which the playwright introduces the commandant of the entire orgy on Bald Mountain. The libretto is quite good. I already have some material for it. It may prove a very good thing.

“Mili, you would be delighted at the change I’ve undergone, and no doubt it is strongly reflected in my music. My brain has become stronger and has turned toward realities. The fires of youth have cooled down. Everything has evened out, and of mysticism for now there isn’t even half a word. (My last mystic thing is this andante in B-flat minor — a chorus — from the introduction to Oedipus I’ve completely recovered, Mili, thank God!”

Despite his attempts to fend off mysticism, Mussorgsku’s very mystical Night on Bald Mountain would become the cornerstone of his reputation.

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