1881 — Modest Mussorgsky dies

Modest Mussorgsky was a member of the Russian Romantic composer’s group known as ‘The Five’ – the other four being Mily Balakirev (the leader), César Cui, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. They set out to produce music that was specifically Russian. Mussorgsky in particular drew inspiration from Russian folk tales, notably in his best known work, the tone poem ‘Night on Bald Mountain’.

After 1874, Mussorgsky’s career was clearly past its prime. The composer drifted out of touch with old friends, or fell out with them entirely – both largely the result of years of alcohol consumption catching up with him. In early 1881, he was hospitalised after suffering a number of seizures. He died a week short of his 42nd birthday, and was buried in St Petersburg, where he had lived for thirty years.

Referenced in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

1930 – Constantinople is officially renamed Istanbul

Although the name had been in use informally since 1453, in most contexts Istanbul was still Constantinople to non-Turks, and Kostantiniyye in most government contexts. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the formation of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923, the old name was gradually phased out.

The changeover was formalised on March 28, 1930, when the Turkish Postal Service Law came into force. All foreigners were requested to stop using the old names of Istanbul and various other Turkish locations. This was enforced by the post office’s refusal to deliver mail addressed to Constantinople, which drove acceptance of the new usage on pragmatic grounds.

Referenced in:

Istanbul Not Constantinople – The Four Lads
Istanbul Not Constantinople – They Might Be Giants

1935 – “Triumph of the Will” premieres

“Triumph of the Will” (or in German, “Triumph des Willens”) is the best known film of Leni Riefenstahl. It is a blatant propaganda piece that covers the 1934 Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg, featuring footage of the massive crowds who attended the rally and speeches given by Hitler himself.

Its dubious political associations aside, “Triumph of the Will” is today recognized as a classic of twentieth century cinema, one of the most frequently homaged and parodied works in the cinematic canon, featuring innovations in camera and music use for feature films. Leni Riefenstahl is today acclaimed as a genius of cinematic art, with horribly bad taste in friends.

Referenced in:

Triumph of the Swill — Dead Kennedys

1943 — Sergei Rachmaninoff dies

Born in 1873, Sergei Rachmaninoff was one of the greatest Russian composers of the Twentieth Century, and one of the last Russians to compose in the Romantic style. In addition, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest pianists in history. Ironically, his greatest fame came after he moved to the West in the wake of the 1917 Russian revolution. His works – which include four concertos, three symphonies and 24 preludes – tended to emphasize the piano, the instrument he knew and loved best. As a writer for piano, he explored a wider range of its capabilities than almost any other composer.

Rachmaninoff was diagnosed with melanoma in late 1942, although only his family was told of the diagnosis – he himself was not. He died a few months later, only four days short of his seventieth birthday, and was buried in a cemetery in New York. His will had called for him to be buried on his property in Switzerland, the Villa Senar, but World War Two made that impossible.

Referenced in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python