Edison Denisov in Sortavala, summer 1975. Photo by Dmitri Smirnov.
Edison Vasilievich Denisov (Russian: ? , 6 April 1929 - 24 November 1996) was a Russian composer in the so-called "Underground", "Anti-Collectivist", "alternative" or "nonconformist" division of Soviet music.
The house in Tomsk where Denisov was born; the memorial plaque is visible.
Denisov was born in Tomsk, Siberia, into the family of a radio physicist, who gave him the very unusual first name Edison, in honour of Thomas Edison. He studied mathematics before deciding to spend his life composing. This decision was enthusiastically supported by Dmitri Shostakovich, who gave him lessons in composition.
In 1951-56 Denisov studied at the Moscow Conservatory: composition with Vissarion Shebalin, orchestration with Nikolay Rakov, analysis with Viktor Tsukkerman and piano with Vladimir Belov. In 1956-59 he composed the opera Ivan-Soldat (Soldier Ivan) in three acts based on Russian folk fairy tales.
He began his own study of scores that were difficult to obtain in the USSR at that time, including music by composers 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 orchestration and later composition there. His pupils included the composers Dmitri Smirnov, Elena Firsova, Vladimir Tarnopolsky, Sergey Pavlenko, Ivan Sokolov, Yuri Kasparov, Dmitri Kapyrin, and Aleksandr Shchetinskiy. See: List of music students by teacher: C to F#Edison Denisov.
In 1979, at the Sixth Congress of the Union of Soviet Composers, he was blacklisted as one of "Khrennikov's Seven" for unapproved participation in a number of festivals of Soviet music in the West.
Denisov became a leader of the Association for Contemporary Music reestablished in Moscow in 1990. Later he moved to France, where after an accident and long illness he died in a Paris hospital in 1996.
Denisov's cycle for soprano and chamber ensemble Le soleil des Incas (1964), setting poems by Gabriela Mistral and dedicated to Pierre Boulez, brought him international recognition following a 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, it 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 frequently 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 the German writer 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.
Honours and awards
- 1956-9 Soldier Ivan (Russian: ?- opera in three acts after motifs from Russian folk fairy tales
- 1958 Sonata for Two Violins
- 1960 Sonata for Flute and Piano
- 1964 Le soleil des Incas ( --The 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 (--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 (? --Romantic Music) for oboe, harp and string trio
- 1968 Autumn () 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 ( ?) for prepared piano (or harpsichord) and tape
- 1969 DSCH for clarinet, trombone, cello and piano
- 1969 The Singing of the Birds for the ANS photoelectronic synthesizer 
- 1970 Two Songs after poems by Ivan Bunin for soprano and piano
- 1970 Peinture (--Painting) for orchestra
- 1970 Sonate for alto saxophone and piano
- 1971 Piano Trio
- 1972 Cello Concerto
- 1973 La vie en rouge ( ? ? --The Life in Red), text by Boris Vian for solo voice, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion
- 1974 Piano Concerto
- 1974 Signes en blanc ( --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 (? ?--The Foam of Days), an opera after Boris Vian
- 1982 Tod ist ein langer Schlaf (-- --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
- 1983 Five Etudes for Solo Bassoon
- 1984 Confession (), 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 ( ?--The Four Girls), an opera in one act after Pablo Picasso
- 1986 Viola Concerto
- 1986 Oboe Concerto
- 1987 Symphony No. 1
- 1987 Clarinet Quintet
- 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-oratorio Lazarus oder Die Feier der Auferstehung ( ? ) 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 Miró for piano, string quartet and woodwind quartet (July-August)
- 1996 Avant le coucher du soleil for alto flute and vibraphone (the last work, completed 16 August).
- 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, 2009.
- Ekaterina Kouprovskaia : "Edison Denisov", monographie. Aedam Musicae, 2017