Modest Musorgsky is Russia’s greatest musical dramatist. When he died in 1881 in St Petersburg at the age of forty-two, in poverty and relative obscurity, he was known for a single opera, Boris Godunov and a handful of eccentric ‘realistic’ songs set to prosaic Russian texts. He had no institutional connections, no ‘degree’, no family of his own, not even a permanent address. Except for Franz Liszt, no composer of stature knew of him outside Russia. Through the loyal (if controversial) intervention of his friends, his works survived in various editings into the early twentieth century, when revivals and evolving musical tastes restored him to new life. This account of his life emphasizes the psychological and economic factors that contributed to the composer’s remarkable rise and tragic, premature end and is the first brief biography in English to make use of materials published in the new, de-Sovietized Russian academic climate.