Edison Denisov: Clarinet Quintet

Program Note

Edison Denisov (1929-1996)
Clarinet Quintet (1987)—North American premiere

Edison Denisov is one of the most significant representatives of contemporary Russian music. Born in Tomsk, Siberia, he studied mathematics at university, specialising in function analysis. Denisov began to study music when he was sixteen, learning to play the mandolin, guitar, clarinet, and piano. He composed his first works very early, sending them to Shostakovich who encouraged him to further his studies and enter the Moscow Conservatory.

Having finished his studies in 1959, Denisov embarked on an in-depth study of 20th century Western music (then excluded from official Soviet culture and therefore forbidden at the Conservatory). His research and analysis led to a series of articles. In 1963, he was the first person in the field of Russian musicology to write a work on dodecaphony and serial technique. At this time, the West was beginning to recognize his compositions: in 1965, Soleil des Incas, Op.1 was produced at Darmstadt, and then in Paris at Domaine Musical, conducted by Bruno Maderna.

Denisov’s work is closely linked to France. A connoisseur of French literature, he composed works based on texts by Baudelaire, Bataille, Vian, and others. His commissions from the French Ministry of Culture and from French orchestras and ensembles, friendly relationships with composers Boulez, Dutilleux, and Xenakis, and his work with French performing artists, all made Denisov a part of French musical life. He was appointed Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1986, and received the Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris in 1993. From 1990 to 1991, he was invited to work at IRCAM and composed Sur la nappe d’un étang glacé for the occasion. Denisov taught at the Moscow Conservatory for over thirty-five years, and in 1990 became the director of the Moscow Contemporary Music Association.

—Ekaterina Denisov

Like Brahms in his later years, Denisov developed a certain partiality to the tonal qualities of the clarinet. Eduard Brunner, clarinet virtuoso and former soloist of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, became acquainted with Denisov's music in the mid-1960s, and has played the composer’s works regularly ever since.