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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials: Modest Mussorgsky

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

Modest Mussorgsky was a 19th Century Russian Romantic composer, a member of The Five. He’s best known for works celebrating Russian history and folklore like Boris Gudonov and Night on Bald Mountain.

A photograph of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. Part of the Qwiz5 series by Qwiz Quizbowl Camp, written to help quiz bowl teams power more tossups!

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer more tossups. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Modest Mussorgsky.


Mussorgsky wrote this piano piece to be musical stroll through a gallery of paintings by Viktor Hartmann. Its sections include The Great Gate of Kiev, The Hut on Fowl's Legs, and several Promenades. It was scored for orchestra by Maurice Ravel.


Night on Bald Mountain is a tone poem that tells the story of a witches sabbath (worshipping the evil god Chernobog) that takes place on the night of St. John’s Eve. At the end of the piece, the peeling of church bells disperses the witches. After Mussorgsky’s death, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed and orchestrated the piece.


Mussorgsky’s best known opera is Boris Gudonov, which is based on a play by Aleksandr Pushkin. The opera tells the story of the real life czar Boris Gudonov (who ruled during the Time of Troubles) and his conflicts with the False Dmitri.


Songs and Dances of Death is the best known song cycle written by Mussorgsky. In its best known scene, a drunken peasant is caught in a blizzard and is encouraged by Death to dance the Trepak, a traditional Russian folk dance.


Mussorgsky, was a member of the group of Russian composers known as The Five (sometimes referred to as The Mighty Handful). The group was led by Mily Balakirev. Other members included Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Cesar Cui, and Alexander Borodin.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

* An analysis of the Hartmann paintings that inspired Pictures at an Exhibition.

* Read a summary of Boris Gudonov from the website of Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre.

* Prog Rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer is well known for their rock orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition. Watch a performance here:

* Finally, check out the Night on Bald Mountain section of Disney’s Fantasia:


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