Dmitri Kapyrin

Edison Denisov

Edison Vasilievich Denisov (Эдисо́н Васи́льевич Дени́сов) (April 6, 1929, Tomsk, RussiaNovember 24, 1996, Paris, France) was a Russian composer of so called "Underground" — "Anti-Collectivist", "alternative" or "nonconformist" division in the Soviet music.


Denisov was born in Tomsk, Siberia into the family of radio-physicist, who gave him the very unusual first name Edison, in honour of the great American inventor. He studied mathematics before deciding to spend his life composing. This decision was enthusiastically supported by Dmitri Shostakovich, who gave him instructions in composition.

In 1951-56 Denisov studied at the Moscow Conservatory — composition with Vissarion Shebalin, orchestration with Nikolai Rakov, analysis with Viktor Zuckerman and piano with Vladimir Belov. In 1956-59 he composed an opera Ivan-Soldat (Soldier Ivan) in three acts on a subject from Russian folk fairy tales.

He began his own study of scores, which were difficult to obtain in the USSR at that time, including music ranging from Mahler and Debussy to Boulez and Stockhausen. He wrote a series of articles giving a detailed analysis of different aspects of contemporary compositional techniques and at same time actively experimented as a composer trying to find his own way.

After graduating from the Moscow Conservatory he taught there orchestration and later composition. Among his pupils there were composers: Mark Minkov, Dmitri Smirnov, Elena Firsova, Vladimir Tarnopolsky, Sergei Pavlenko, Ivan Sokolov, Bozhidar Spassov, Evgeni Kostitsyn, Juan Gutierrez, Yuri Kasparov, Olga Raeva, Anton Safronov, Alexandra Filonenko, Vadim Karasikov, Dmitri Kapyrin, Alexander Shchetinsky, etc.

In 1979 he was blacklisted as one of the "Khrennikov's Seven" at the Sixth Congress of the Union of Soviet Composers for unapproved participation in some festivals of Soviet music in the West.

Denisov became a leader of the ACM - Association for Contemporary Music reestablished in Moscow in 1990. Later Denisov moved to France, where after an accident and long illness he died in Paris hospital in 1996.


The cycle for soprano and chamber ensemble Le soleil des Incas (1964), setting the poems by Gabriela Mistral and dedicated to Pierre Boulez, gave him an international recognition. This happened after the series of successful performances of the work in Darmstadt and Paris (1965). Igor Stravinsky liked the piece, discovering the "remarkable talent" of its composer. However, the piece was harshly criticised by the Union of Soviet Composers for its "western influences", "erudition instead of creativity", and "total composer's arbitrary" (Tikhon Khrennikov). After that, performances of his works were often banned in the Soviet Union.

Later he wrote a flute concerto for Aurèle Nicolet, a violin concerto for Gidon Kremer, works for the oboist Heinz Holliger, clarinettist Eduard Brunner and a sonata for alto saxophone and piano for Jean-Marie Londeix, that became highly popular among saxophone players.

His sombre but striking Requiem, setting a multi-lingual text (English, French, German and Latin) based on works by Francisco Tanzer, was given its first performance in Hamburg in 1980.

Among his major works are the operas L'écume des jours after Boris Vian (1981), Quatre Filles after Pablo Picasso (1986) and ballet Confession after Alfred de Musset.

Selected Works

  • 1956-9 Soldier Ivan (Russian: Иван-солдат opera in three acts after motifs from Russian folk fairy tales
  • 1964 Le soleil des Incas (Солнце инковThe Sun of Incas), text by Gabriela Mistral for soprano, flute, oboe, horn, trumpet, two pianos, percussion, violin and cello
  • 1964 Italian Songs, text by Alexander Blok for soprano, flute, horn, violin and harpsichord
  • 1966 Les pleurs (Плачи — Lamentations), text of Russian folksongs for soprano, piano and three percussionists
  • 1968 Ode (in Memory of Che Guevara) for clarinet, piano and percussion
  • 1968 Musique Romantique (Романтическая музыка — Romantic Music) for oboe, harp and string trio
  • 1968 Autumn (Осень) after Velemir Khlebnikov for thirteen solo voices
  • 1969 String Trio
  • 1969 Wind Quintet
  • 1969 Silhouettes for flute, two pianos and percussion
  • 1969 Chant des Oiseaux (Пение птиц) for prepared piano (or harpsichord) and tape
  • 1969 DSCH for clarinet, trombone, cello and piano
  • 1970 Two Songs after poems by Ivan Bunin for soprano and piano
  • 1970 Peinture (Живопись — Painting) for orchestra
  • 1970 Sonate for alto saxophone and piano
  • 1971 Piano Trio
  • 1972 Cello Concerto
  • 1973 La vie en rouge (Жизнь в красном цветеThe Life in Red), text by Boris Vian for solo voice, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion
  • 1974 Piano Concerto
  • 1974 Signes en blanc (Знаки на белом — The Sighs on White) for piano
  • 1975 Flute Concerto
  • 1977 Violin Concerto
  • 1977 Concerto Piccolo for saxophone and six percussionists
  • 1980 Requiem after liturgian texts and poems by Francisco Tanzer for soprano, tenor, mixed chorus and orchestra
  • 1981 L'écume des jours (Пена дней — The Foam of Days), an opera after Boris Vian
  • 1982 Tod ist ein langer Schlaf (Смерть — это долгий сон — Death is a Long Sleep) — Variations on Haydn's Canon for cello and orchestra
  • 1982 Chamber Symphony No. 1
  • 1982 Concerto for bassoon, cello and orchestra
  • 1984 Confession (Исповедь), a ballet in three acts after Alfred de Musset
  • 1985 Three Pictures after Paul Klee for viola, oboe, horn, piano, vibraphone and double bass
  • 1986 Quatre Filles (Четыре девушки — The Four Girls), an opera in one act after Pablo Picasso
  • 1986 Viola Concerto
  • 1986 Oboe Concerto
  • 1987 Symphony No. 1
  • 1989 Clarinet Concerto
  • 1989 Four Poems after G. de Nerval for voice, flute and piano
  • 1991 Guitar Concerto
  • 1992 History of Life and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christus according to St. Matthew for bass, tenor, chorus and orchestra
  • 1993 Sonata for clarinet and piano
  • 1993 Concerto for flute, vibraphone, harpsichord and string orchestra
  • 1993 Completion of Debussy's opera Rodrigue et Chimène
  • 1994 Chamber Symphony No. 2
  • 1994 Sonata for alto saxophone and cello
  • 1995 Morning Dream after seven poems of Rose Ausländer for soprano, mixed chorus and orchestra
  • 1995 Choruses for Medea for chorus and ensemble
  • 1995 Completion of Schubert's opera-oratory Lazarus oder Die Feier der Auferstehung (Лазарь и торжество Воскрешения) D689
  • 1995 Trio for flute, bassoon and piano
  • 1995 Des ténèbres à la lumière (From Dusk to Light) for accordion. Publ.: Paris, Leduc, 1996. Dur. 15'.
  • 1996 Symphony No. 2 (March)
  • 1996 Three Cadenzas for Mozart's Concerto for flute and harp (April-May)
  • 1996 Sonata for two flutes (May)
  • 1996 Concerto for flute and clarinet with orchestra (July)
  • 1996 Femme et oiseaux (The Woman and the Birds) homage to Joan Miro for piano, string quartet and woodwind quartet (July-August)
  • 1996 Avant le coucher du soleil for alto flute and vibraphone (the last work, completed 16th of August).


  • "The Reason for the longevity of great creations of Guillaume de Machaut, Claudio Monteverdi, Heinrich Schütz and J. S. Bach is not only in the information placed in them, but also in their construction infinitely perfect in its beauty" . (Cited from E. Denisov: Contemporary Music and the Problem of the Evolution of Composers’ Technology, Moscow, Soviet composer, 1986, p.145.)
  • "Beauty is the principal factor in my work. This means not only beautiful sound, which, naturally, has nothing to do with outward prettiness, but beauty here means beautiful ideas as understood by mathematicians, or by Bach and Webern."
  • "The most important element of my music is a lyricism."
  • "I find the serialist procedures very promising, but in my work I strive for the synthesis and use tonality, modality, aleatory and other expressive media."
  • "I hate 'scholarly' music. Music has to be 'alive' but not scholarly." ("Neizvestnyi Denisov" – "Unknown Denisov", Moscow, Kompozitor, 1997, p. 48)
  • "I love to write quiet and beautiful music". (Edison Denisov)


  • Yuri Kholopov & Valeria Tsenova: Edison Denisov, Harwood Academic publ., 1995
  • Yuri Kholopov & Valeria Tsenova: Edison Denisov - The Russian Voice in European New Music; Berlin, Kuhn, 2002
  • Brian Luce: Light from Behind the Iron Curtain: Anti-Collectivist Style in Edison Denisov's "Quatre Pièces pour Flûte et Piano;" UMI, Ann Arbor, 2000
  • Peter Schmelz: "Listening, Memory, and the Thaw: Unofficial Music and Society in the Soviet Union, 1956-1974," PhD Dissertation, University of California (Richard Taruskin, advisor), 2002.
  • Peter Schmelz: Such Freedom, If Only Musical. Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

External links

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