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EDISON DENISOV (1929–1996)

Edison Denisov is one of the most significant representatives of contemporary Russian music. Born in Tomsk, Siberia, he studied mathematics at university, specialising in function analysis. Edison Denisov only began to study music at the age of sixteen, at first learning to play the mandolin, guitar, clarinet and piano. He composed his first works very early, sending them to Shostakovich who encouraged him to further his studies and enter the Moscow Conservatory. Vissarion Shebalin, an obscure composer but a remarkable teacher, taught him his trade.

Having finished his studies at the Conservatory in 1959, Edison Denisov embarked on an in-depth study of twentieth-century Western music (then excluded from official Soviet culture and therefore forbidden at the Conservatory) with the New Viennese School, Bartok, Stravinsky, Hindemith, etc.

In his early works (1961-1968), he mainly explored series technique : here, we can sometimes see the influence of the second Viennese School. But the serial principle never came to dominate Denisov's music, it was only applied as one method of organising material among others. In the beginning, he limited himself to chamber music only, displaying a very personal language in Soleil des Incas, Chansons Italiennes and Pleurs. Edison Denisov's research and analysis led to a whole series of scientific articles. In 1963, he was the first person in the field of Russian musicology to write a work on dodecaphony and serial technique. At this time, the West was getting to know his work : in 1965, Soleil des Incas Opus 1 was produced at Darmstadt, and then in Paris in Domaine Musical, conducted by Bruno Maderna.

At the beginning of the 1970’s, Edison Denisov began to take an interest in larger formations and wrote his first work for full orchestra in 1970 : Peinture, dedicated to the artist Boris Birger. In this work, we can see his individual style already crystallised ; its characteristics are wide spaces of sound woven by many melodic lines, highly expressive intonations, acute pointillism, etc. Then, one after the other, he produced his concerti for various instruments ; these were often commissioned by famous musicians, such as Aurel Nicolet, Heinz Holliger, Jean-Marie Londeix and Edouard Brunner.

In the 1980’s, Edison Denisov's mature period began. He composed his most significant works at this time : the opera L'écume des jours, based on the book by Boris Vian and produced at the Opéra Comique in 1986 ; Requiem ; Confession, a ballet based on the work by Alfred de Musset ; and his Première symphonie for full orchestra. In all these works, Edison Denisov stands out as a master of dramatic art. 4 jeunes filles (1986) was the composer's third and last opera. Based on a play by Pablo Picasso, it allowed Edison Denisov to reveal the pictorial aspect of music which had always interested him. At the same time, he carried out experiments in chamber music with the greatest variety of formations and unusual combinations of instruments. In some of his works, he looked at religion and developed his own version of the eternal theme : L'histoire de la vie et de la mort de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, Lumière paisible, Trois fragments du Nouveau Testament. But basically, all Edison Denisov's music is spiritual art. The symbolism which conveys the timeless concepts of Beauty, Good and Light is ever present in his work.

The 1990’s were particularly productive, displaying Edison Denisov's art in all its splendour. Long works such as the Deuxième symphonie, two oratorios, several concerti including the Concert for flute, harp and orchestra - considered by the composer himself as one of his most successful works - joined with sonatas, vocal cycles and shorter pieces. His work stood out in the lyricism and extreme delicacy of the voices of the strings, the stunning expressiveness of the brass and percussion (6 pièces) and the refined images of sound canvases.
His two double concerti are not at all alike. In one movement, the Concerto for two violas, harpsichord and strings (1981) can be compared to those of his concerti where solo instruments respond to the orchestra. On the other hand, in the Concert for flute, harp and orchestra (1996), commissioned by Editions Billaudot for their centenary, the parts are virtuoso and concertante.

Edison Denisov's work is closely linked to France. A connoisseur of French literature, he composed works based on texts by J. de Nerval, C. Baudelaire, G. Bataille and B. Vian among others. The commissions he received from the French Ministry of Culture, from French orchestras and ensembles, his friendly relationship with composers such as P. Boulez, H. Dutilleux and J. Xenakis, and his work with French performing artists all made Edison Denisov a part of French musical life. He was appointed Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1986 and received the Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris in 1993. From 1990 to 1991, he was invited to work at the IRCAM and composed Sur la nappe d'un étang glacé for the occasion. Working under a French commission, he orchestrated and completed Rodrigue et Chimène, a little-known opera by Debussy which was produced in Lyon in 1993.

Aside from all this, for more than 35 years, Edison Denisov taught at the Moscow Conservatory. In 1990, he became the director of the Moscow Contemporary Music Association. He was also a correspondent member of the Fine Arts Academies of Bavaria and Berlin.

Edison Denisov died on the 24th November 1996 in Paris.

This catalogue presents the work of Edison Denisov in its multiplicity. The music, written at different times in the life of the composer, is for different formations, with traditional styles (chamber music, concerti, opera), as well as non-established types (pieces for brass and percussion, harpsichord and percussion, variations for eight flutes, etc.).

Ekaterina Denisov

See all works composed by Edison DENISOV

Works composed by Edison DENISOV

See all works composed by Edison DENISOV


Deux duos, for bassoon and cello
Bsn : Alexander Klechevsky
Vlc : Alexander Zagorinski
Enregistrement CD Etcetera KTC 1179.

Sonate, for alto saxophone and cello
Enregistrement CD Bis 765.

Silhouettes, for flute, 2 pianos and percussions
Fl : D. Denisov
Pnos : M. Parshina et M. Dubov
Perc : V. Golouchov
Enregistrement CD Visa Vera UL 94316.

Six pièces, for brass and percussions
Cuivres de l’Orchestre Symphonique de la Radio de Frankfort
Enregistrement CD “Sächsische Tontiäger”.

Concerto, for 2 violas, harpsichord and strings
Vla : Nobuko Imai et Petra Vahle
Harpsichord : Annilie de Man
Nieuw Sinfonietta Amsterdam
Dir : Lev Markiz
Enregistrement CD BIS-CD-518.