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The Poet amongst Russian Composers: Edison Denissov

Amongst the composers of the post-Shostakovich era, including Sofia Gubaidulina, Galina Ustvolskaya and Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denissov is considered the great sound poet, the master of differentiated colouration and of the finest contours.

On 6 April 2009, Edison Denissov, born in Tomsk, Siberia in 1929, would have reached the age of eighty. Alongside Sofia Gubaidulina and Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denissov is one of the most important composers of Russian modernism. He initially began studying mathematics before studying composition at the Tomsk Conservatory with Vissarion Shebalin and Nikolai Peiko.

Denissov worked at the Experimental Studio for Electronic Music in Moscow from 1968 to 1970. He gave private instruction in composition (his most important pupils were Elena Firssova and Dmitri Smirnov) and taught instrumentation and score-reading at the Moscow Conservatory because the authorities there did not want to entrust him with a composition class due to his avant-garde tendencies. After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Denissov served for a time as Secretary of the Russian Composers’ Union and was a co-founder of the Moscow Ensemble for New Music.

Denissov was initially supported by Dmitri Shostakovich, but his own production later became increasingly differentiated from the influence of the elder composer, during which time he increasingly turned towards Western models in contemporary music (predominantly from France). Denissov’s extensive oeuvre is marked by free dodecaphony and micro-structural procedures through which he attains a great richness of atmospheric timbres.