Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky was born in Karevo, Russia. Educated for the army, he resigned his commission in 1848 after the onset of a nervous disorder and began studying music. Along with Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov, he was one of the first to promote a national Russian style of music. Mussorgsky first became known for his songs, among them the well-known setting of Goethe's (see Vol. 2) satirical "Song of the Flea" (1879). His masterpiece, however, is the opera Boris Godunov (1874), a wonderful example of his ability to "color" his music. His piano suite Pictures from an Exhibition (1874) is also a standard work in the concert repertoire of today. During the latter part of his life, Mussorgsky sank into chronic alcoholism, and this contributed to an early death. After his death, his friend Rimsky-Korsakov took many of the composer's unfinished pieces and completed or arranged them. Today, the original versions of many of Mussorgsky's works are making a comeback and deserve serious attention.
The French composer Maurice Ravel was the leading exemplar of musical impressionism. Ravel entered the Paris Conservatory in 1889, where his teachers included Gabriel Faure. As a composer, Ravel produced highly original, fluid music, much of it within the outlines of musical classicism. He excelled at piano composition and orchestration, and his compositions reveal many of the musical trends active in Paris after the turn of the century. His coloristic effects and occasional use of whole-tone scales and tritones place him with Claude Debussy and the impressionists. Yet the sense of proportion and the austere aspects of some of his compositions also reflect his interest in, and reverence for, classical forms of music. Ravel composed Pavanne for a Deceased Infant (1899), the piano work Jeux d'eau (1902), his song cycle Sheherazade (1903), and his String Quartet (1903) while still a student at the conservatory. In subsequent years, Ravel composed ballets, including Daphne and Chloe (1912); symphonic poems, such as La Valse (1920); two operas, L'Heure espagnole (1911) and L'Enfant et les sortileges (1912); and many pieces for piano, violin, and orchestra. His orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (1922) attracted worldwide attention and inclusion in the repertoire of major orchestras. Another staple of major orchestras is Ravel's Bolero (1928). Ravel died in Paris following brain surgery in 1937.