• 1929 — 1996
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Edison Vasilyevich Denisov was one of the leading composers who emerged in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin and used avant-garde techniques in their music despite the disapproval of the Communist Party. His father was an electrical engineer in Tomsk, and named his son Edison in honor of the American inventor and because the name is an anagram of Denisov (omitting the final "v"). Edison was interested in mathematics, music, and painting. He taught himself to play a number of folk instruments, and from 1946 to 1950 studied piano at Tomsk Music College. At the same time he was a student of mathematics and mechanics at Tomsk University (1946-1951).
Then he decided to pursue musical studies, traveling to Moscow to enter the Conservatory there and remaining until 1956. His piano teacher was Vladimir Belov and his composition instructor was Vissarion Shebalin. He also studied orchestration with Nikolai Rakov and musical analysis with Viktor Zuckerman. He became a faculty member of the Conservatory in 1960 and over the years taught orchestration, analysis of musical forms, and composition. His early music shows the beginning of his lifelong interest in using Russian folk materials.
During the early '60s, he made a thorough study of the major composers of the twentieth century, including the officially disfavored Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Nono, and Stockhausen, plus Lutoslawski and Bartók. Denisov's major work that consolidated this study and demonstrated that there was an interest in avant-garde music in the U.S.S.R. was The Sun of the Incas, premiered in Leningrad in 1964 and soon played in Western Europe by Bruno Maderna and Pierre Boulez.
In the 1960s Denisov often used rigorous serial procedures, and often tightly restricted formal ideas, such as the one reflected in the title of his Crescendo e diminuendo for harpsichord and 12 strings (1965). During the following year he had a tendency to write music in larger forms, often in the form of concertos. Many of these works were composed for Western performers, such as saxophonist Jean-Marie Londeix, oboist Heinz Holliger, clarinetist Eduard Brunner, and flutist Aurèle Nicolet. One Soviet performer who did champion Denisov's work was the Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, and he even premiered Denisov's Violin Concerto in Milan, rather than in the Soviet Union.
During this decade Denisov started using techniques other than the twelve-tone system, including aleatory (chance) techniques, electronic music, new playing techniques, and microtones. His music became less rigidly systematic. In his mature music (generally that written from 1980 onward) he usually employed various techniques freely. Russian folk music made a reappearance in this music, but often used in heterophonic textures.
The late Soviet policy of perestroika allowed Denisov to cultivate close ties with the West and employ avant-garde techniques with more freedom. In 1990 he became head of the Moscow Association of Contemporary Music. In 1991, at the invitation of Pierre Boulez, he went to work at IRCAM, the French experimental music institute.