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Russian Music at Home and AbroadNew Essays$
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Richard Taruskin

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780520288089

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520288089.001.0001

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Crowd, Mob, and Nation in Boris Godunov

Crowd, Mob, and Nation in Boris Godunov

What Did Musorgsky Think, and Does It Matter?

(p.58) 3 Crowd, Mob, and Nation in Boris Godunov
Russian Music at Home and Abroad

Richard Taruskin

University of California Press

The two authorial versions of Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov reflect contrasting historiographical and ideological traditions that were being debated in the 1860s and 1870s, when the opera was being written. The difference is epitomized by the St. at St. Basil’s shrine in the original version, which depicts the crowd (i.e., the Russian people) according to the tradition of Nikolai Karamzin, the autocracy’s official historiographer, as submissive and dependent; and the so-called Kromy Forest scene which replaced it in the revised version, which depicts the crowd as actively rebellious and as a powerful agent, according to the then recent revisionary writings of Nikolai Kostomarov. What then of the widespread custom, dating from the Moscow Bolshoy Theater revival of the opera for Mujsorgsky’s centenary in 1939, of including the two scenes in a conflated version of the opera that the composer never imagined? Despite its manifest incoherence from an historiographical standpoint, it has become popular owing to its aesthetic and dramatic qualities. It thus crystallizes a key problem in academic reception studies, which have generally followed a modernist bias that upholds authors over audiences.

Keywords:   Musorgsky, Boris Godunov, Karamzin, Kostomarov, Russian historiography

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