Sometimes, Moussorgsky is whole civilizations discarded by life. Sometimes, he is whole cultures from under which the earth has rolled, whole groups of human beings who stood silently and despairingly for an instant in a world that carelessly flung them aside, and then turned and went away. Sometimes he is the brutal, ignorant, helpless throng that kneels in the falling snow while the conquerors, the great ones of this world, false and true alike, pass by in the torchlight amid fanfares and hymns and acclamations and speak the fair, high words and make the kingly gestures that fortune has assigned to them. Sometimes he is even life before man. He is the dumb beast devoured by another, larger; the plants that are crowded from the sunlight. He knows the ache and pain of inanimate things. And then, at other moments, he is a certain forgotten individual, some obscure, nameless being, some creature, some sentient world like the monk Pimen or the Innocent in “Boris Godounow,” and out of the dust of ages an halting, inarticulate voice calls to us. He is the poor, the aging, the half-witted; the drunken sot mumbling in his stupor; the captives of life to whom death sings his insistent, luring songs; the half-idiotic peasant boy who tries to stammer out his declaration of love to the superb village belle; the wretched fool who weeps in the falling snowy night. He is those who have never before spoken in musical art, and now arise, and are about us and make us one with them.
—Paul Rosenfeld, Musical Portraits
(New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920)