Edison Denisov

(Russie - Russia)

Edison Denisov was born in 1929 in Tomsk, Siberia, where he first studied mathematics at university. In 1951 he took up musical studies at the Moscow Conservatory - composition with Visarion Shebalin, orchestration with Nikolai Rakov, analysis with Viktor Zuckerman and piano with Vladimir Belov - which he completed in 1956.

In the sixties, Edison Denisov devoted himself to an in-depth study of the work of the "classic" composers of the twentieth century (Stravinsky, Bartók, the Second Viennese School) and of contemporary Western art (Boulez, Nono, Stockhausen and Lutoslawski). This period corresponds to his search for a personal style which, at the time, was beginning to affirm itself in vocal and instrumental pieces. Of great significance for his further development proved to be the vocal chamber piece Le soleil des Incas, premiered in 1964 by Gennady Rozhdestvensky in Leningrad and later performed by Bruno Maderna, Pierre Boulez and other conductors throughout Europe and in America, as this work marked the point of departure for the composer's personal style.

In the following decade, Edison Denisov concentrated on works for large ensembles and wrote most of his concerti, many of which were commissioned by pre-eminent Western soloists such as flutist Aurèle Nicolet, oboist Heinz Holliger, clarinetist Eduard Brunner and saxophonist Jean-Marie Londeix. The world première of the Violin Concerto was given in Milan by Gidon Kremer. The rigorous organisation of the musical fabric which was a characteristic of Denisov's output in the sixties gradually gave way to a supple and free use of the most varied compositional techniques and processes, dictated by the general nature of each work.

For Edison Denisov, the eighties corresponded to the mature period, lyrical and of a very vocal nature, and determined by series of characteristic intonations, in particular motifs based on seconds and thirds. This was writing which often recalled the heterophony of Russian folksongs, marked by highly diversified rhythms and containing numerous difficulties for the performers. Finally, this was a dramatic art which implied a progressive development of the material and important culminating episodes. It was during these years that the composer penned his most notable works: the opera L'écume des jours, premiered in 1986 at the Opéra Comique in Paris, the chamber opera Quatre jeunes filles ("Four Young Girls"), based on a play by Pablo Picasso, the ballet The Confession, based on the novel by Alfred de Musset, and a Requiem. During this period, the composer took inspiration from the great themes linked to existence and religion. His work now expressed a kind of symbolism through melody, harmony, rhythm and timbres. This style continued into the nineties.

Denisov received two French commissions, one from the Ensemble InterContemporain for its tenth anniversary, the other from Daniel Barenboim to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Orchestre de Paris. For this occasion Denisov composed his first symphony, which Barenboim premiered at the Salle Pleyel in 1988 and conducted three times in Chicago in 1991. Denisov also wrote a number of film scores and incidental music during the nearly three decades he collaborated with Yuri Lyubimov, director of the Taganka Theatre in Moscow, putting on productions in Russia and throughout Europe.

Since 1959, he had taught the analysis of musical forms and orchestration at the Moscow Conservatory and, beginning in 1992, composition. In 1990, he took over the direction of Moscow's Association of Contemporary Music. In 1990-91, he was invited by Pierre Boulez to work at IRCAM, the French experimental music institute located in Paris. Edison Denisov was a corresponding member of the Bavarian and Berlin Academies of Fine Arts. In 1986, he was named Officer of the Academy of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture and received the Grand Prix of the City of Paris in 1993.

After a long illness, Denisov died in November 1996 in a Paris hospital.

"Beauty is a 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 its lyricism.
I find serialist procedures very promising, but in my work I strive for synthesis and use tonality, modality, aleatory and other expressive media."
Edison Denisov
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