Notebook I (1980/1—1982 — Denisov)

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Notebook I (1980/1—1982)/1-50[1]
written by Edison Denisov (1929—1996)
Русская музыка/Russian music. Translated from Russian by D. Smirnov-Sadovsky & Richard Shaw. Source: Denisov MS.

Notebook I (1980/81—1982)/1-50

It's time to sum up. [2]
Colin—he is me. [3][4]
The most widespread way of composing music now is to do so hastily.[4]
There is no need to be afraid of sentimentality—nowadays we’re in generally are afraid of everything.[4]
It is possible to create a precise (and individual) sound world within any confined space.[4]
А ‘series’ is nothing more than a ‘crutch’. And it should be treated as such. [5][4]
Sometimes timbre becomes more expressive than pitch . saturated or empty.[6][4]
When you have been busy with a 12-tone ‘row’ for a long time, it suddenly begins to reveal more and more fresh properties.[4]
There is no need for ‘modelling’, you just need to listen to the emerging music and build it according to its own laws. These are new and unique each time.[4]
Twelve-tone harmony is usually angular and inflexible. Additional effort is required to give it the necessary plasticity. Otherwise ‘corners’ poke out of it.[4]
My attitude to sound is the same as Mozart and Debussy's.[4]
Nowhere did Debussy reveal his soul, as in ‘Pelléas’.[7]
It's strange that all Debussy's music is a bit cold and decorative, whereas in ‘Pelléas’ there's nothing of the kind — this is music of amazing sincerity and openness, as simple and natural and also as poetic and touching in its expression as Mozart’s.[7]
I always do something different to what I want. If only I could do what I want, I could become a great composer.[7]
God forbid someone should start to ‘study’ my film music![7]
I often try to stifle the pain I feel inside with music, but it doesn’t help.[7]
The significance of Beethoven in the history of music is greatly exaggerated.[7]
My String Trio has to be played in the same program as Schoenberg's String Trio, and my ‘La vie en rouge’ with his ‘Pierrot Lunaire’.[7]
Beethoven is (in many ways) an exaggerated figure. His impotence is especially clearly apparent in ‘Fidelio’.[7]
Real music cannot be ‘composed’, it must be ‘heard’.[7]
The only work setting Pushkin's verses that matches the level of his poetry is Glinka's song “I remember the wonderful moment”.[7]
Intonational meaningfulness of everything taking place... Intonational meaningfulness of each element (the moment) of the musical fabric... Even of each microelement... An interval is no mere “step”, but a psychologically meaningful cell within the musical texture. Each element must speak (i.e. be saturated with information). In Hindemith’s music there's nothing of the sort. Which is why his music is so bad and meaningless (hence there's mud everywhere—in the statement of the material, in the intervals, and so on). Bach’s musical intonation is also, as a rule, insufficiently concentrated. On the contrary—in music by Mozart or Glinka...[7]
My Requiem bears its own religious conception (unrelated to Tanzer's words). It's all in the score.[8][9]

All the music of Shostakovich's last period is music written in a bad mood. Its ‘tonality’ matches his Testimony. [10][9]
I'm not a supporter of daily work—it always causes a certain amount of graphomania. It is necessary to work only when there is the possibility of one's whole being having maximum concentration on this work, and for this one needs complete relaxation and complete disconnection at another time (when one's not working). A composition always needs the process of maturation, not permanent switching from one composition to another. No one yet has given birth to a child without nine months of gestation.[9]
Shostakovich told me: “Budyonni is knee-deep in blood, and Voroshilov is in blood up to his balls” (and he repeated these last words several times, adding: “Edik, I know this for sure.”).[11][9]
Prokofiev's music is completely devoid of spirituality. It is dull, self-confident and businesslike.[12]
Why did Edgar Allan Poe, a man of amazing talent and capacity for insight, have such a hard life, and why did fate throw so much misfortune at him? Why did he have to bear such a cross?[9]
I love flowers very much. They have the same fragile and strange beauty as birds and butterflies.[9]
Bach's music is too 'robust' for me. It doesn't have the fragility and tenderness (enigma) that I love in music. All Bach is entirely prosaic and straightforward. He has almost no extra layer (even in the ‘Passions’).[9]
There is a truly divine beauty in Pushkin’s poetry. That's why it is so simple and so elusive. Pushkin has naturalness and light: the thing that I love about Mozart and Glinka. There are a lot of Pushkinisms in The Magic Flute (and it seems that no one has noticed this until now).[9]
All Shostakovich's works are the clearest examples of egocentricity.[9]
In some of his paintings Boris Birger also almost reaches the purity of Pushkin.[13]
Probably the most annoying thing about Hindemith is the randomness of the material and the lack of air in his scores.[13]
Yesterday I completed my Partita. It's harder working on someone else’s material than one’s own. [14][13]
In my Requiem, the theme B-A-C-H appears only once, in the tubular bells part (bars 137-138).[15][13]

The life philosophy of Selye (“Stress without distress”) is completely alien to me. Any egoism is alien to me (even ‘altruistic’).[16][13]
Yesterday I listened to Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony on TV. Strikingly bad music. Practically without any highlights. Here is an example of a composer who was already obsolete in his own lifetime.[13]
Almost all my rhythmic flexibility comes — oddly enough — from Chopin, who influenced me very much in the initial period of my music studies (and whom I really love even now). Yesterday I played all four of his Ballades with great pleasure.[17]
Today the whole river is covered with strange snow flowers. After a strong cold snap, the river froze and thousands of snow flowers grew from thick and transparent ice. Today I first went (on skis) to the middle of the river and looked at them for a long time. They are very similar to strange sprouting ferns. Most of their “leaves” are completely symmetrical, and many resemble large feathers. Except that they are cold and dead (like flowers growing from the trunks of weapons that Colin cultivated with his bodyheat).[18][17]

Schnittke's music will always be more popular and performed more often than mine. And this is the way it should be. Handel's music in his time was performed more than Bach's, and Richard Strauss's is now more popular than Mahler's.[19]
"For those who seek the light in life, for those who believe ..."[20]

Today it is warmer (-8 ° C) and there is nothing left of the snow flowers on the river, except a handful of ashes on transparent ice.[21][17]
Alfred [Schnittke] wrote his "Requiem" impersonally. Nothing in it reflects his personal feelings. Perhaps a Catholic requiem has to be like this. My “Requiem” is like Schubert’s “Winterreise”. This is why I was often disturbed by the text of the Tanzer’s texts.[22]
There’s no need to reject any type of compositional technique (especially a priori).[17]
The better the piece of music, the more difficult its path in life. Just as with people—only bad people 'succeed' in life. None of my best works are published yet; they are not recorded and are unappreciated. And it's their fate that is hardest.[17]

Surprisingly, the best work that Debussy composed, his ‘Pelleas’, is not appreciated by people at all. The general public doesn't know it (and so far doesn't understand it), and musicians, as a rule, ignore this score. But if Debussy is great, it’s only through this composition.[17]
Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni' is even more popular than ‘Die Zauberflöte’, but in fact it is significantly inferior to it in all respects. The plot (and essence) of ‘Don Giovanni' was alien to Mozart. And this is clearly reflected in his music for the opera.[17]
The text of all my vocal works is always projected onto me. If I do not make the text ‘mine own’, I cannot set it to music. So it was with Mandelstam, whom I could not make ‘mine’ . Therefore, I do not write to the poems by Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva. These two ladies are too fanciful and flirty for me. I always need a simple and clear word. When the text is overloaded with metaphors or the modernistically complicated, it becomes inappropriate for my music. In addition, the poet should be at least a little musical (Mayakovsky is very bright, but utterly unmusical. You can’t write to his verses). The ideal is, of course, Pushkin. But he also has a lot of empty and superficial texts. And the poems which you can use for music are all repeatedly used by others (as a rule, very badly—except Glinka).[17]
There is a certain unpleasant rigidity about dodecaphony.[23]

With my special thanks to Ekaterina Denisova-Bruggeman for the copy of manuscript of the Denisov’s ‘Notes’ (DS).


  1. Denisov’s notebooks contain 658 aphorisms, penned between 1980 and 1995. They were published in Russian by Valeria Tsenova in ‘Neizvestnyi Denisov’ (Unknown Denisov), Moscow, Kompozitor, 1997, but with many abridgments.
  2. ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 35. The numbering relates to the manuscript. In the footnotes there are given the pages from the publication (in Russian) of Valeria Tsenova ‘Неизвестный Денисов’ (‘Neizvestnyi Denisov’—‘Unknown Denisov’), Moscow, Kompozitor, 1997.
  3. Colin—the hero in Denisov's opera ‘L'écume des jours’ (Froth on the Day-dream) after the novel by Boris Vian, 1981.
  4. 4,0 4,1 4,2 4,3 4,4 4,5 4,6 4,7 4,8 4,9 ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 35.
  5. This refers to the twelve-tone or serial technique introduced by the composers of the New Viennese School.
  6. Instead of ‘pitch’ Denisov used the term ‘intonation’, which relate to the intervals in a piece of music.
  7. 7,00 7,01 7,02 7,03 7,04 7,05 7,06 7,07 7,08 7,09 7,10 ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 36.
  8. Francisco Tanzer (1921-2003)—Austrian-German poet and writer, whose words are set in the Requiem.
  9. 9,0 9,1 9,2 9,3 9,4 9,5 9,6 9,7 9,8 ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 37.
  10. This refers to the book Testimony published by Solomon Volkov in New York, 1979.
  11. Semyon Mikhaylovich Budyonni (1883-1973) and Kliment Efremovich Voroshilov (1881-1969) were Soviet military leaders.
  12. Omitted in ‘Unknown Denisov’.
  13. 13,0 13,1 13,2 13,3 13,4 13,5 ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 38.
  14. The Partita for violin and orchestra was composed in early 1981 on the material of J. S. Bach’s Partita in D minor for solo violin. Denisov didn’t change the solo violin part, but provided it with an orchestral accompaniment in his own style.
  15. The monogram B-A-C-H appears in the 5th movement of the Requiem after the words ‘God’ and ‘good’ (Gott gut good God?).

    Denisov notebooks 005.svg

  16. ‘Altruistic egoism’ is the term of Canadian physician and biologist Hans Selye (1907-1982). His book in Russian translation was published by the Progress publishers in 1979.
  17. 17,0 17,1 17,2 17,3 17,4 17,5 17,6 17,7 17,8 ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 39.
  18. This is the comparison with a fragment from Boris Vian's novel ‘L'écume des jours’ (Froth on the Daydream).
  19. Omitted in ‘Unknown Denisov’.
  20. Denisov quotes the text of the tenor solo from the Finale of his “Requiem” (bars. 139-140), where this text is sung in French: “Pour ceux qui cherchent la lumiere, qui sont le chemin de la foi” (For those who seek the light, who are on the path of faith).

    Denisov notebooks 006.png
  21. See also fragments 28 and 40.
  22. Omitted in ‘Unknown Denisov’.
  23. ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 40.

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