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Edison Denisov - 25th anniversary of death 24 November 2021

Among Russian composers of the post-Shostakovich era such as Sofia Gubaidulina, Galina Ustvolskaya and Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denisov is considered the great poet of sound, a master of differentiated colouring and the finest contours. On 24 November, we commemorate the 25th anniversary of Edison Denisov’s death.

Born on 6 April 1929, he is one of the most important composers of Russian modernism. He first began studying mathematics before studying composition at the conservatory in Tomsk with Vissarion Shebalin and Nikolai Pejko. From 1968 to 1970, Denisov worked at the Experimental Studio for Electronic Music in Moscow. He gave private lessons in composition (his most important students were Yelena Firsova and Dmitri Smirnov) and taught instrumentation and score-playing at the Moscow Conservatoire, as the authorities did not want to entrust him with a composition class due to his avant-garde tendencies. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Denisov was secretary of the Russian Composers’ Union for a time and co-founder of the Moscow Ensemble for New Music. Denisov was initially promoted by Dmitri Shostakovich, but his own work later increasingly distanced itself from his influence, as he increasingly turned to Western models of contemporary music (primarily from the French region). Denisov’s extensive oeuvre is characterised by free dodecaphony and microstructural procedures, with which he achieves a great richness of atmospheric timbres. Denisov is the creator of numerous chamber music, vocal, stage and orchestral works such as “Requiem”, “La vie en rouge” or the opera “L’écume des jours” after Boris Vian. In “La vie en rouge” for voice and chamber ensemble based on political texts by Boris Vian, Denisov succeeds uniquely in translating the musicality of Vian’s language within the framework of a song cycle.

“L’écume des jours” / “Froth on the Daydream”

The opera “L’écume des jours” / “The Froth on the Daydream” of 1981 is a central work in Edison Denisov’s oeuvre. The lyrical drama in 3 acts and 14 pictures based on a novel by Boris Vian, available in a German translation by Jürgen Köchel, was premiered in Paris on 15 March 1986. The plot takes place in a surrealistically designed future world that is at once exhilarating and horrific. Colin and Chloé, two true “children of happiness”, meet and fall in love in a circle of young fantasists. They marry and live carefree into the day. But this happiness does not last long. When Chloé is stricken by a mysterious illness, the medical treatment claims the last financial reserves. The disintegration of the ideal world is just as unstoppable as Chloé’s infirmity. She dies, leaving Colin in the bitter realisation that happiness, love and life run through one’s hands like sand. 

Catalogue raisonné of Edison Denisov’s works at Sikorski

The catalogue raisonné of Edison Denisov’s works, published in 2016, is still complete and up-to-date. In the foreword to this catalogue, Ekaterina Kouprovskaia writes: “Denisov's stylistic development shows great steadiness, without interruptions or detours, but always evolutionary.”

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