Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis


School of Music


Music Performance

First Advisor

Walter Cuttino



[A Performer's Guide]

Peter Alan Barton

Modeste Petrovich Mussorgsky, one of the Russian composers known as the "Mighty Handful," was an innovator of Russian music. Mussorgsky is widely recognized for the genius of his opera Boris Godunov, but his songs are a significant part of his output and not as well known. Songs and Dances of Death (1875-1877) is a song cycle for voice and piano set to poems by Golenishchev-Kutuzov. Each of the four songs in this cycle presents a unique interpretive challenge for the singer: a dramatic scene with a plot, characters and action. Each song deals with death in a poetic manner, although the depictions are realistic in that they reflect experiences not uncommon in nineteenth century Russia: child death, death in youth, drunken misadventure and war. The song cycle is considered Mussorgsky's masterpiece in the genre.

The purpose of this research document is to provide a complete performer's guide to Songs and Dances of Death. The existing research approaches the cycle mainly from a musicological and compositional perspective. In this guide, text, dynamics, the color of the voice, rhythm, and tempo are addressed. Bringing the different research and interpretive work into one usable document will greatly benefit the singer. There are many available materials, but nothing that brings together the aspects of research, practice and decision making which a singer must address when preparing to sing a revered song cycle. A dedicated performer's guide will aim to bridge this gap.