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A Voice Unknown: Undercurrents in Mussorgsky's Sunless

A Voice Unknown: Undercurrents in Mussorgsky's Sunless Mussorgsky's Sunless cycle is aesthetically and stylistically an anomalous member of his oeuvre. Its notably effaced, pared-down, and withdrawn qualities present challenges to critical interpretation. Its uniqueness, however, renders it a crucial work for furnishing the fullest possible picture of Mussorgsky as a creative artist. The author of its texts, Golenishchev-Kutuzov (whose relationship with Mussorgsky at the time of its writing possibly extended beyond the platonic) has been identified by recent scholarship as an essential "eye-witness" for those to whom Stasov's populist characterization of the composer does not ring entirely true. Golenishchev-Kutuzov believed that in Sunless Mussorgsky first revealed his authentic artistic self. According to Golenishchev-Kutuvoz, Mussorgsky regarded his signal achievement in Sunless to have been the eradication of all elements other than "feeling." In other words, he had thrown off the stylistic shackles imposed by the aesthetics of realism and relied entirely on intuitive harmonic invention as the sole conveyor of a purely subjective, "affective" meaning in the cycle. This hypothesis forms the point of departure for an investigation of select numbers of the cycle. Analysis reveals that the affective aspect is not the only significant element operative. Alongside remnants of the realist style, there is evidence, of varying degrees of subtlety, for a knowing use of symmetrical pitch organization. Mussorgsky not only adapted the usual referential attachments of symmetrically based chromaticism--typically found in Russian operas of the second half of the nineteenth century--he also, through extremely simple but effective means, synthesized the "intuitive" harmonic and "rational" symmetrical elements of the cycle's pitch organization so that the latter emerges seamlessly out of the former. This remarkable synthesis ensures the cycle's uniformity of tone while also allowing for a reading that extends beyond the generally affective to the symbolically more specific. This symbolic level of reading offers several interpretative possibilities, one of which may refer even to the relationship of the poet and the composer. Irrespective of such potentials for interpretation, the most significant achievement in the cycle remains the synthesis of the intuitive/affective and rational/symbolic elements of its organization. Songs 1, 2, 3, and 6 of the cycle are considered in detail. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png 19th-Century Music University of California Press

A Voice Unknown: Undercurrents in Mussorgsky's Sunless

19th-Century Music , Volume 28 (1) – Jul 1, 2004

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Publisher
University of California Press
Copyright
Copyright © by the University of California Press
ISSN
0148-2076
eISSN
1533-8606
DOI
10.1525/ncm.2004.28.1.15
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Mussorgsky's Sunless cycle is aesthetically and stylistically an anomalous member of his oeuvre. Its notably effaced, pared-down, and withdrawn qualities present challenges to critical interpretation. Its uniqueness, however, renders it a crucial work for furnishing the fullest possible picture of Mussorgsky as a creative artist. The author of its texts, Golenishchev-Kutuzov (whose relationship with Mussorgsky at the time of its writing possibly extended beyond the platonic) has been identified by recent scholarship as an essential "eye-witness" for those to whom Stasov's populist characterization of the composer does not ring entirely true. Golenishchev-Kutuzov believed that in Sunless Mussorgsky first revealed his authentic artistic self. According to Golenishchev-Kutuvoz, Mussorgsky regarded his signal achievement in Sunless to have been the eradication of all elements other than "feeling." In other words, he had thrown off the stylistic shackles imposed by the aesthetics of realism and relied entirely on intuitive harmonic invention as the sole conveyor of a purely subjective, "affective" meaning in the cycle. This hypothesis forms the point of departure for an investigation of select numbers of the cycle. Analysis reveals that the affective aspect is not the only significant element operative. Alongside remnants of the realist style, there is evidence, of varying degrees of subtlety, for a knowing use of symmetrical pitch organization. Mussorgsky not only adapted the usual referential attachments of symmetrically based chromaticism--typically found in Russian operas of the second half of the nineteenth century--he also, through extremely simple but effective means, synthesized the "intuitive" harmonic and "rational" symmetrical elements of the cycle's pitch organization so that the latter emerges seamlessly out of the former. This remarkable synthesis ensures the cycle's uniformity of tone while also allowing for a reading that extends beyond the generally affective to the symbolically more specific. This symbolic level of reading offers several interpretative possibilities, one of which may refer even to the relationship of the poet and the composer. Irrespective of such potentials for interpretation, the most significant achievement in the cycle remains the synthesis of the intuitive/affective and rational/symbolic elements of its organization. Songs 1, 2, 3, and 6 of the cycle are considered in detail.

Journal

19th-Century MusicUniversity of California Press

Published: Jul 1, 2004

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