Symbolism in the Flute Concerto by Edison Denisov

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Symbolism in the Flute Concerto by Edison Denisov[1]
автор D. Smirnov-Sadovsky
См. Russian music. Дата создания: 1997 (Rev. 1988). Version of 2007[2].. Источник: Private archives • См. также русскую версию: Символика Флейтового концерта Денисова

Symbolism in the Flute Concerto by Edison Denisov

‘My compositions also contain their own symbolism.’
Edison Denisov[3]

The symbolism of letters and numerals encrypted into a music score, — a certain hidden level of meaning that often remains beyond the listener’s perception, — plays a special role in the music of Josquin[4], Bach, Schumann, Brahms, Berg, Ravel, Messiaen, Boulez, Shostakovich, Schnittke, and many other composers. Nowadays this technique of sound-making has become the basis of a large stream in music that is conditionally named ‘sound cryptography’[5] or ‘cryptophony’ Although the Russian composer Edison Denisov was not regarded as an aficionado of this particular stream, some of his compositions show this kind of symbolism and its special nontrivial treatment.

It is not only interesting, but also useful for understanding the deep processes in a composition, to trace how these symbols are introduced and developed, obtain their flesh and are converted into certain characters, living and interacting inside the audio-visual space outlined by the text of a musical score. However, to do this is not always a simple task, since Denisov, in contrast to many other composers, as a rule did not make attempts to promulgate his ‘program’.

The Concerto for flute and orchestra by Edison Denisov was written in the summer (July-August) of 1975 at ‘the house of creation’ in Sortavala (Karelia) at the request of the Swiss flutist-virtuoso Aurèle Nicolet, to whom it was dedicated. The orchestra is a chamber one: 2 clarinets, bass clarinet (=cl. piccolo), harp, celesta, 2 percussion player, strings (6 violins, 5 violas, 4 violoncellos, 3 double basses). The composition consists of 4 movements: Adagio, Allegro agitato, Andante, and Adagio.

The duration is 24 minutes. The premiere took place on 22nd of May 1976 in Dresden, with the soloist Aurèle Nicolet and conductor Hans-Peter Frank. The score was published by Peters, Leipzig in 1980.

Let us note that Denisov began to compose this Concerto during the lifetime of Dmitri Shostakovich, who in the past played an important role in the formation of Denisov as a composer. The sad news about Shostakovich’s death (on 9th of August, 1975) came when Denisov was in the middle of the second movement.

The careful harmonic sound ‘d’, played by the harp, and ascending motive of the flute (d-sharp — e — f — c — b-flat — b… f-sharp — g) are interrupted by a tender splash of vibraphone (a — g-sharp — c-sharp) and by a soft blow onto the middle-size suspended cymbal. This lyrical, poetical, and almost romantic beginning, with the beautiful and ideally confluent timbres, and highly diverse and absolutely natural pliability of rhythm and articulation, is one of the most exciting pages of Denisov’s music.

Example 1


The first 12 notes make a sound ‘row’ or ‘a series’, which is further treated with very free variation — that is entirely not in the spirit of the ‘New Viennese classics,’ for whom the ‘row’ was a law of a whole piece of music and of each cell of its texture. However, for Denisov, this is only one of the tools of a composer’s technique, an ‘assistant’ in the organization of sonic material. ‘A series’, he wrote, ‘is a ‘support’, and so it is necessary to treat it as such,’[6] or: ‘A series — is a good organizing module, especially for the texture.’[7] In the development Denisov repeats not really a series or the sequence of its intervals but rather the principles of its construction. This is personified here by a tendency for ascending movement by chromatic semitones (or its inversion) and the ‘filling in’ by them of wider intervals. The ‘prime series’ here is as follows:

Example 2

Denisov 02new Symb.jpg


  Order of appearance:     1   2   3   4   5   6   7   11  12  8   9   10  
  Notes: D D# E F C Bb B F# G A G# C#
  Real intervals: +1 +1 +1 +7 –2 +1 –5 +1 +14 –13 +5
  Simplified intervals: +1 +1 +1 –5 –2 +1 –5 +1 +2 –1 +5

In its elementary (or simplified) form this is the chain of intervals, containing six minor seconds, two major seconds and three perfect fourths only — the rest of the intervals are not included. This is the statement of a conscious selection, self-restriction and economy.

This ‘series’ by itself sounds very expressively and naturally, as if it was not just composed, but as if it ‘was overheard’. According to Denisov, ‘Intervallic material, lying at the basis of a series, must always be natural. Its cells must possess the ability to live and to be developed independently, as the branches of an integrated tree’[8].

Let us attempt to reveal these cells and to determine what the ‘personages’ are on stage at the beginning of this musical action. Let us take the first eight notes of a series (in the order of their appearance).

The first three notes: ‘D — D-sharp — E’ (‘D — DIS — E’ in German notation that is accepted in Russia) — are included into the name of the composer:

EDIS — on    DE — n — IS — ov.

If the ‘D-sharp’ is replaced enharmonically by ‘E-flat’ (‘ES’ in German that normally stands for the letter ‘S’), we will have the notes: ‘D — E-flat — E’ (‘D — S — E’) which are also incorporated in the name

ED — i — S — on     DE — n — S — ov.

The following note ‘F’, — we can assume, — is the end of his surname, with that recorded to the German harmony of DenissoFF, although we also can write ‘F’ enharmonically as ‘E-sharp’ (= ‘EIS’ in German, all the letters of which are present in Denisov’s name). So, from this we can conclude that the main ‘persona’ here is Edison Denisov himself, and the narrative has an autobiographical character.

The notes 1, 2, 5 and 7: ‘D — E-flat — C — B’ (‘D — (e)S — C — H’ — in German) are the concealed monogram of Shostakovich. The notes 5, 6, 7 and 8: ‘C — B-flat — B — A’ (‘C — B — H — A’ — in German) are represent the ‘shuffled’ monogram B — A — C — H. Both great composers overhang music history with their gigantic shadows, and they therefore play an important role in the destiny of Denisov himself. However, this caused in Denisov an ambiguous and sometimes critical reaction. He often contemplated them and argued with them, not only in his own music, but also in his numerous statements opposing them, an aesthetic he shared with Mozart, Schubert, Glinka and Debussy in many respects.

In his relatively early article, ‘Music and the Machines’, Denisov wrote: ‘The Reason for the longevity of the great creations of Guillaume de Machaut, Claudio Monteverdi, Heinrich Schütz and J. S. Bach is not only in the information placed in them, but also in their construction, infinitely perfect in its beauty’ [9]. There are quite a few of Denisov’s works that are directly connected with J. S. Bach, like the ‘Partita’ for the violin with orchestra (1981), ‘Chamber music’ for the viola, harpsichord and strings (1982), ‘Es ist genug’ for viola and piano (1984, and also an ensemble version for viola and 8 instruments, 1986), the cantata ‘Morgentraum’ and some others. In the finale of his ‘Requiem’, (1980) the monogram ‘B — A — C — H’ is played by bells (bb. 137 — 8) and accompanies the text: ‘Gott, gut, good, God?’ — i. e. Bach is seen like some kind of good God, although with a question mark. It is clear, that Bach was not a ‘Holy Man’ for Denisov, especially when he compared him with his hateful Hindemith, stating that the intervals in his music ‘do not speak’ and ‘they are not filled with information,’ which is in contrast to the intonation[10] (intervallics) of Mozart and Glinka[11]. He determined the differences of Bach’s and his own aesthetics with the punctuality of mathematician: ‘Bach's music is too ‘robust’ for me. It lacks entirely that fragility and tenderness (mystery), which I love in music. All Bach is very prosaic and simple. The middle ground is absent almost everywhere in his music (even in his ‘Passions’).’[12] . Denisov was irritated by the ‘scholarism’ of Bach’s music[13], and also by its ‘mechanical regularity.’[14] . Denisov also saw the danger of a hack work in the manner of Bach's writing: ‘The type of Bach’s thinking increases hastiness of writing’[15] .

Dmitri Shostakovich, who discovered ‘a great composer gift’[16] in young Denisov, and played a personal role in his destiny, had also a certain influence on his music especially at the early stage. Denisov returned the respect that Schostakovich paid to him in his piece ‘DSCH’ for clarinet, trombone, violoncello and piano (1969), and also in his early articles (published in 1962 and 1967).[17] However, in the course of time Shostakovich became for Denisov more and more alien as a composer as well as a persona.

[The next two paragraphs were censored by the editor and withdrawn from the Russian edition:]

Denisov usually explained that he was repulsed by Shostakovich’s ‘cowardice’ and ‘conformism,’ ‘lack of character’ and ‘unscrupulousness’ now and then passing into ‘cynicism’ and ‘dishonour’. Denisov saw that these personal human qualities were reflected in his music. ‘All the creative output of D. Shostakovich — is the most distinctive example of egocentrism,’ he wrote.[18] ‘The basic feature of Shostakovich is a continuous irritation’[19]. In the opinion of Denisov ‘there is too much rubbish in Shostakovich's music’[20], it is ‘anti-vocal’ and ‘angular’, ‘ugly’ and ‘unnatural’, it lacks ‘the plastic and natural beauty of form’, which was ‘replaced by automatic ‘battering’ and enormous intrusion into the music of anti-spiritual mechanical tendencies, caused by the loss of faith and by the idolization of material values’.[21]

Although the judgments of Edison Vasilyevich about his great predecessors seem unjust in many respects, they are sincere and speak more not about them, but rather about Denisov himself, his principles, and aesthetics.

One more ‘character’ is represented by notes 1, 2, 3, 6, 8: D — E-flat — E — B-flat — A (D — ES — E — B — A). These are the shuffled letters of word BESEDA (which means conversation). Beseda was also a maiden name of Tamara Starozhuk, a woman whom Denisov loved and hoped to marry[22].

This theme-symbol in the concealed form is present in a number of the compositions by Denisov and covers a series of instrumental concertos with the orchestra: Cello Concerto (1972), Piano Concerto (1974 — 5), Flute Concerto (1975) and Violin Concerto (1977), to a considerable extent reflecting different stages of its interrelations with his beloved[23].

Thus, the first bar already introduced the four ‘characters’:

  Notes: (English)       D    D-sharp  E    F    C    B-flat   B    A  
  Notes: (German) D   DIS=ES E   F   C   B   H   A
  E. Denisov 1 2 3 4
  J. S. Bach 5 6 7 8
  D. Shostakovich 1 2 5 7
  T. Beseda 1 2 3 6 8

In the 2nd bar they all swap over: the chord for harp made of fourths, fifths and tritone with the following sound E for flute contain the name BESEDA. Both monograms of Shostakovich and Bach are hidden in the same chord in combination with the subsequent short phrase for vibraphone B — C-sharp — C (‘H — CIS — C’ — in German). The swift passage for glockenspiel finishes on ‘A — B-flat — C — B’ (‘A — B — C — H’ — in German) — this is the jumbled Bach’s monogram again. The musical monogram of Denisov himself passes from the harp (E-flat) to the flute (‘E — D’), partly ‘merged’ with all the remaining ‘characters’, and it concludes the 2nd bar (see Example 1).

It also moves into the 3rd bar, passing from the flute (D) to the harp (E-flat) and bass clarinet (E — F). Simultaneously the monogram of Shostakovich is integrated into the parts for the flute, harp and vibraphone: ‘D, E-flat, C — B’ (‘D, ES, C — H’ — in German). It is followed by the concealed Bach monogram, as if being placed ‘into three dimensions at once’: in the parts for the bass clarinet, vibraphone and clarinet (‘B C — H g — A’ — Germ.), in the vibraphone only (‘C — H — gis — B — A’ — Germ.), and in a retrograde form in the part for the flute (‘H — C — A — B’ — Germ.). And the phrases of clarinet, vibraphone and flute end in bb. 3 — 5 with the alloy of the names of Denisov and Beseda (‘ES B — A — D E — F — E’ — Germ.).

The entire music texture here is woven with these symbols and their most diverse combinations. They are present everywhere as a certain obsession or ‘idée fixe’. However, as it is easy to see, Denisov constantly disguises them, avoiding the presentation of these symbols in the straightforwardly recognizable form.

In order to speak about the further development of these musical symbols and about their role in the different parts of the musical form, it would be important to examine the structure of the piece as a whole. However, a clear definition of form here is quite problematic: it eludes definition because the smoothly-fluid nature of the music has no strong contrasts. The piece is written with a great structural freedom and diffusion of the elements of construction, and also with uncertain tonal centres. The traditional methods of form analysis here simply ‘do not work’, and therefore the different ways of treating it can easily coexist.

Yuri Kholopov and Valeria Tsenova[24] suggest in their book considering the first movement as a sonata form with the features of a variation cycle with the following boundaries: bb. 1 — 12 Exposition (Theme and Variation 1) ; bb. 13 — 16 Transition; bb. 17 — 75 Development section (Variations 2 — 4); bb. 76 — 92 Recapitulation (Variations 5 and 6).

In our view here we have far more than 6 variations (or changes of orchestral textures), and the structure of the sonata form could be explained better as follows:

  bb. 1 — 6      The Principal Thematic Construction (PTC) with D as tonic;
  bb. 7 — 12 Transitional Construction (TC);
  bb.13 — 36 Subordinate Thematic Construction (STC)
with the introduction by the string instruments
B-flat — A — G — A — F-sharp — G (conditionally in G)
and the flute-motive E — F — E-flat — D — G…;
  bb. 37 — 39 Closing Construction (CC) — ‘the rustles’ of violins;
  bb. 40 — 47 The beginning of the Development Section;
  bb. 48 — 51 Transition to the Flute Cadenza;
  bb. 52 — 71 The Flute Cadenza (around g);
  bb.72 — 75 Retransition (with tonic D in bass);
  bb. 76 — 86 Recapitulation ‘combined’, with The Principal Thematic Construction
(PTC) in the part of flute where the flute, and the Subordinate (STC)
is represented by Strings beginning with a 6-note chord
(the half of 12-note symmetrical chord built from fourths and tritones);
  bb. 87 — 92 Coda — the complete 12-note symmetrical chord dwelling on D.


It is easy to note that here we avoid the use of the customary terms ‘theme’ or ‘subject’, substituting the word ‘construction’, since it, as it seems to us, more precisely reflects the formal essence of the phenomenon. If one describes theme as the structurally distinct and relatively complete bearer of musical thought, that here we have a certain structure, the carrying out function of theme, but on a formal level not relating to the customary types of form of the Principal Theme: period, sentence (der Satz), and ternary form (also known as ‘three-part song’)[25]. Such constructions in Denisov’s music, as a rule, are completely free and have no clear boundaries — they grow naturally, overflowing into their own development and merging with it. And this is the essence of his aesthetics — a composer writing his music does not reproduce the commonly known types of form or structure, but he ‘makes his own individual choice in many sonic objects and establishes between them a specific system of correlations, putting this multitude to order, and creating the form of a composition’[26]. Or, more precisely speaking: ‘No need for the ‘modelling’, what we need is simply to listen to the birth of music and to build it according our own laws (each time new and unique)’[27].

Let us return to the first movement of the Concerto. One fact that takes our special attention is that the main divisions of the form: Exposition (with all four parts of it PTC, TC, STC, CC), Development Section[28], Recapitulation[29] and Coda[30] — all of them begin and end with the monogram of the ‘main hero’ — the musical initials of Edison Denisov.

Approaching the Subordinate Thematic Construction (STC), or to be accurate, in the ‘up-beat’ to it (b. 12) in the vibraphone part, a new symbol is introduced: the ascending ‘ladder’ or ‘stairs’ of the thirds C-sharp — E — G — B-flat — D — F — A — C — E-flat.

Example 3


A little later it is repeated twice in an altered shape in bb. 20 — 22 in the vibraphone part: B-flat — D — F-sharp — A — C-sharp — E — G — B — D-sharp), and partially in b. 24 the clarinet part (C — E-flat — G — B-flat — D — F). This distinctive image then disappears forever, leaving a listener in some confusion.

Pitch patterns made of thirds, harmonic or linear, are uncharacteristic of Denisov, especially in this composition with the texture based on perfect fourth, tritone and semitone interval relations, with the exception of the third movement, where such principles are evident in some chord complexes (see bb. 43, 45). Where does this ‘stairway’ lead to, and what does it indicate? This mysterious symbol, apparently, it is not placed here by chance — it has doubtless had some definite meaning for the composer. Obviously, it is somehow connected with the sensation of lifting, ascending or takeoff.

We can encounter similar ‘takeoffs’ in Denisov’s early Sonata for flute and piano (1960), where they merely constitute an attempt to go beyond the limits of the traditional tonal harmony. They also create the basis of the energetic Finale of the Sonata for saxophone and piano (1970), where they are most likely the result of the simulation of quasi-jazz harmony. In his piano Variations on the Theme of Handel (1986) — Variation III — the similar chains of thirds are called into being by the textural characteristics of the theme of Handel itself.

Vocal music can throw more light on this question. In Denisov’s cycle ‘La vie en rouge’ (The Life in Red) to Boris Vian’s verses (1973), which reflects the style of French chanson, similar ‘stairways’ of thirds, without penetrating into the vocal part, accompany, on the one hand , the ironic text of the third movement ‘La java[31] des bombes atomiques’ (about the dreadful atomic scientist who exploded the government of France, but was then praised as a hero), and on the other hand, the most lyrical poem of the fourth movement (‘Valse jaune’ — ‘The Yellow Waltz’ with the words ‘…et j’vais voir de quoi elle a l’air’ — ‘and I'm gonna go and see what she looks like’), the sixth movement (‘Pourquoi que je vis’ — ‘Why I live’ — it is placed there as the accompaniment to the answer to this question: ‘parce que c’est joli’ — ‘because it is pretty’), and the final (seventh) movement (‘La dernière valse’ — ‘The Last Waltz’ — in connection with the text: ‘adieu les choses que j'aime — ‘farewell to all that I love’ and ‘mon coeur n’a plus de peine’ — ‘my heart does not ache any longer’). Such is the range of the meanings, which one way or another, refer to this symbol.

Let us trace now the development of the symbol ‘В — А — С — Н’: (given here in German note-names)

  bb. 5 — 6        …B–A B–C–H…          passes from vibraphone to harp;
  b. 7         B/es/A H–C–H… passes from vibraphone to flute;
  b. 8       …H A–B–fis–g–C… passes from the flute to the harp;
  b. 9      …B–A–H–cis–d–e–fis–H–C… played by solo flute;
  b. 14 des–C–B–H–B… played by second violin;
  b. 15 …C–cis–A–H–A… played by vibraphone;
  b. 17 H–C–B–B–A–e played by first violin;
  b. 17 H–A–B…C played by celesta (right hand);
  bb.18 — 19  C–H–B–as–A played by celesta (left hand);
  bb. 19 — 20 …C–H–B–H–C–H–cis–B–A played by celesta violoncello;
  bb.21 — 22 des–C–H–C–B–A played by first clarinet;
  bb. 22 — 23 …C–H–B–H–C–H–cis–B–A… played by solo flute;
  b. 23 …C-H–A–B played by vibraphone;

And so on, bar after bar, Denisov all the time ‘shuffles’ his Bach’s ‘pack of cards’ but… the ‘solitaire’ does not seem to work right! And only in the Coda at the background of the transparent 12-note sonorous chord, tender and expressively (dolcissimo espressivo) with quiet flute overtones, almost as if in a whisper, does it appear in its authentic form, pronouncing the name of Bach (b. 88): …B — A — C — H…

Then, however, everything returns to the ‘main hero’, — the symbol of Denisov himself (last sound of the flute is D), — and the fragments of Bach’s name in the right hand of celesta serve merely as an embellishment or contrapuntal ornament, while the third D-flat — F in the left hand surrounds and envelops its ‘dwelling’: D — ES — E (D — E-flat — E in English) — the notes, which here do not sound but seem to be implied.

Something similar also occurs in the second movement — one of the most brilliant and original examples of Denisov’s ‘rapid music’. This swift scherzo can be treated as the ‘second development section’ (and the Finale — as the ‘second and basic recapitulation’). The entire movement is notated without bar lines, which makes this score especially difficult for a conductor[32].

From the very beginning of this second movement the name BACH penetrates all the twisting snake-like waves of the multilayed chromatic texture, which is a development of the idea of ‘rustles’ that was introduced at the end of the exposition of the first movement:

Example 4


The following ‘splash’ of clarinets (on the same page) hints at Shostakovich's monogram: E — ES — des — C — b — H for clarinet piccolo; C — H — D — ES for second clarinet; and ES — D… C — H for first clarinet appear at the end of the passage. A couple of pages later (before the rehearsal mark [3], p. 32 of the Peters Edition) both of these of symbols merge together in a completely unexpected manner — as if Denisov manages to ‘pit’ these two giants against each other:

Example 5


This is the climax and simultaneously the end of the development of both musical symbols, after which their role in the work is reduced to a minimum. The next passage of the vibraphone presents an initial series in its prime and ordered form (for the first time in the composition) that contains, as we know, the symbols of all four ‘characters’. It is answered with the precise (but incomplete — only 9 notes while the rest notes of the series are played by unpitched percussion) inversion form on the flute:

Example 6

Denisov 06new Symb.jpg

At rehearsal mark [5] the vibraphone part is focused on the notes of Denisov’s monogram (…ES — D — E — ES — E — F…), and then at rehearsal mark [6] in the flute part it is possible to distinguish the distorted monogram BESEDA (B — D — ES — E — ES — A).

Gradually the development becomes more dramatic. ‘Rustles’ and ‘splashes’ grow into the stormy, irrepressible acoustic waves, alternating with the sharp and rapid ‘scattered’ blows, among which it is now not possible to distinguish any ‘characters’ – they are all absorbed by the gigantic crushing flow. The movement ends with the ‘quiet storm’ as if heard from a distance (recapitulation, from rehearsal mark [12] to [17]).

The third movement is a lyric elegy, a 19-part ‘ricercar’ with a virtuoso application of the principles of free ‘quasi-imitative’ polyphony. This is a wonderful example of Denisov’s ‘‘multivoice’ writing in a strict style’. Rhythm here looks simplified compared to the other movements. ‘The subject’ of this quasi-canon is moving around the sounds of the name of the ‘main lyric hero’. Slowly one instrument after another enters until all the strings become involved in this ‘canto’.

Example 7


In b. 13 they are joined on the flute, and its entrance is a precise repetition of the initial pattern of the Subordinate Thematic Construction (STC) from the first movement: E — F — ES — D (bb. 14-15).

Step by step the melodic line rises higher and higher, and when an apex B-flat (in the third octave above middle C) is reached and established for a long time (for fourteen whole bars), the polyphonic texture is interrupted by the five by 12- note harmonic ‘posts’, bounded together with the sliding flow of glissandi, where the upper voice forms the simple pattern consisting of the perfect fifths and octaves H — E — E — H — E (or in English: B — E — E — B — E):

Example 8


It is difficult to say for sure what the a symbolic meaning of this fragment is, but what is astonishing is the literal coincidence with the I movement of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, where exactly the same pattern in the solo violin part serves as a counterpoint to the words from the liturgical hymn to the holy spirit ‘Veni, Creator Spiritus’:

Accende lumen sensibus,
infunde amorem cordibus.

or in English translation:

Kindle our senses with light,
Pour Thy love into our hearts.

Example 9


If this is a simple coincidence, this coincidence is quite surprising, taking into account the role, which the concept of ‘light’ plays in the aesthetics of Denisov[33].

Here there is also an additional allusion, to the Cor anglais motive from the Act III of Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’ (b.78) that expresses the feeling of agonizing expectation of Tristan’s beloved, but placed into another key (here the pattern is transposed up a major third).

The last of these five harmonic ‘posts’ composed of the fifths and tritones with the bass note D-sharp sustains for the 22 bars until the very end of the movement. At first, his chord serves as a background for the three ‘rustles’ of the violins. The sudden virtuoso passages of bells provoke the flute to enter into the nervous (if we do not say, passionate) and conflicting dialogue, where the flute personifies the ‘main hero’, and the bells, his beloved. Meanwhile the ‘rustles’ are converted into the two noisy waves, which suddenly calm down and are dissolved in the monogram E — F — ES — D. The bells meanwhile play: B — ES — E — D — A, B — ES — E — D — A:[34]

Example 10

Denisov08 new-Symb.JPG

It is perhaps plausible that the news about Shostakovich’s death which arrived while Denisov was working on this Concerto is somehow reflected in this music, as it is asserted in the book by Kholopov and Tsenova[35].

However, the musical text of the score tells us that here Denisov was more than absorbed by some different, more intimate thoughts, and he reflects about himself ascending to the certain apex (probably the apex of his art), simultaneously dreaming about that personal happiness, which frequently proves to be unachievable in reality. However an artist lives parallel (at the minimum two) lives, and the composing of music, as such, is possibly the only authentic life for a composer. ‘I only live when I work. The rest of the time I merely exist,’ — Denisov wrote later[36]. Although these words have an aftertaste of bitterness, this is completely natural — and so must be.

The finale of the Concerto returns us to the images of the first movement. This is an actual recapitulation, where everything is summed up and all ‘the cards are shown’. The beginning almost exactly coincides with the beginning of the first movement, but already in the second bar the name BESEDA is played by harp in its clear and authentic form:

Example 11


Only for a while the attention of composer is concentrated on the Bach’s monogram (bb.8 — 10), again in its ‘obscure’ versions: C — H — C — H — B — H — B — A in the first cello part, H — C — B — A — H and B — A — H — C at the first and second clarinets, H — C — B — A — H — C at the first viola. The monogram of Shostakovich is now no longer distinguishable.

However, the sonic initials of the ‘main hero’ can be traced everywhere: bb.5-8 in the harp part, bb.11-12 in the vibraphone part, b.13 in the flute part and so on. At the very end the flute plays the tender ‘whistle tones’ indistinguishable in pitch, and the light passages of celesta ‘outline’ the region D–ES–E, without invading it (this is a development of the idea which appeared in the Coda of the I movement), while the quiet bells sound like an invocation, B — ES — E — D — A, B — ES — E — D — A, F — D — A. And then, as if in a morning’s haze, everything is dissolved and dies down…

An analysis of a piece of music is an additional way of enjoying musical art, which has definite advantages, since it permits us to touch upon the secrets inaccessible to simple aural perception. However, in spite of this, it cannot replace the process of listening and can never be acknowledged as comprehensive. A ‘program’ created by a composer, with help of musical and other symbols, is only one, and usually the superficial, layer of the complex and multilayered spatially-temporal musical structure of a work. The ‘program’ of this composition, although seemingly resembling the models of ‘program music’ of romanticism (for example, ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ by Berlioz), in essence, has very little in common with them.

This is not music subordinated to some literary scenario, illustrating and illuminating by sounds some plot or story, but precisely the opposite: this is rather a certain sonic drama or novel, created by the means of music, and personifying the ideas of its creator: ‘fragile, tender, mysterious’, ‘multilayered’, ‘flexible’, ‘not invented, but natural’, surprisingly ‘perfect in the beauty of construction’ — the music of a real master.

No one better than Denisov himself said about his music: ‘In my music there are many unnoticeable changes of light and shade, animated and unpredicted, as light and shade are in nature — when there is the slightest breath of wind, the run of a cloud across the sun, the entire colouring immediately changes. But this is never a simple colour, and these both the light and shade have nothing ornamental in them, all these lights and shades have a meaning and are filled with sense, as well as the entire texture of a composition. Nature for me is not a decoration in which man lives, but it is, let us say, an external thing but part of myself, and it lives and breathes, as well as I myself do, and it is full of a large and mysterious meaning’[37].

Written in October 1997. Revision and English translation 2007.

With my special thanks to Ekaterina Denisova-Bruggeman for the copy of manuscript of the Denisov’s ‘Notebooks’, as well as to Joshua Thomas, Bruno de Florence, and Cameron Pyke for the reading this article and making the corrections.

The notes

  1. In Russian: «Символика Флейтового концерта Эдисона Денисова» (Simvolika Fleitovogo Kontserta Edisona Denisova). In the collection: SVET. DOBRO. VECHNOST’. In memory of Edison Denisov. Pp. 369-381, Moscow, 1999.
  2. © D. Smirnov-Sadovsky 1997 (Rev. 1988). English translation 2007.
  3. Denisov: The Notebook I, No.109. See also the publication of Valeria Tsenova ‘Неизвестный Денисов’ (‘Neizvestnyi Denisov’ — ‘Unknown Denisov’), Moscow, Kompozitor, 1997, p. 45.
  4. Josquin des Prez (c. 1450 to 1455 — August 27, 1521) — a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance.
  5. Cryptography (or cryptology; derived from Greek κρυπτός kryptós ‘hidden,’ and the verb γράφω gráfo ‘write’) is the study of message secrecy. In modern times, it has become a branch of information theory, as the mathematical study of information and especially its transmission from place to place.
  6. The Notebook I, No.6. Also: ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 35.
  7. The Notebook I, No.63. Also: ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 41.
  8. The Notebook I, No.129. Also: ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 46.
  9. Highlighted by me — DS. Cited from E. Denisov: Contemporary Music and the Problem of the Evolution of Composers’ Technology, Moscow, Soviet composer, 1986, p.145.
  10. The term ‘intonation’ is usually used by Russian musicians for the intervallic characteristic of a piece of music.
  11. The Notebook I, No.22. Also: ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 36.
  12. The Notebook I, No.30. Also: ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 37.
  13. ‘I hate ‘scholarly’ music. Music has to be ‘alive’ but not scholarly.’ The Notebook I, No.142. Also: ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 48.
  14. ‘I don’t like very much a mechanical regularity in music.’ The Notebook I, No.177. Also: ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 51.
  15. The Notebook I, No.124. Also: ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 46.
  16. From the Letter of Shostakovich to Denisov from 22 March 1950. See, Yuri Kholopov, Valeria Tsenova. Edison Denisov. Moscow, Kompozitor, 1993, p. 173.
  17. His Sonata for saxophone and piano (1970) that begins with DSCH-motive is a hidden dedication to Shostakovich.
  18. The Notebook I, (withdrawn from ‘Unknown Denisov’).
  19. The Notebook I, No.113 (withdrawn from ‘Unknown Denisov’).
  20. The Notebook I, No.202 (withdrawn from ‘Unknown Denisov’).
  21. The Notebook I, No.61 (withdrawn from ‘Unknown Denisov’). In this note Shostakovich was criticised as well as Prokofiev. See also notes I: 24, 38, 192, 237, 268, 275, 411, 432; II: 15, 17, 22, 61, 69, 92, 139; III: 2, 6 (most of which are withdrawn from ‘Unknown Denisov’).
  22. This author learned about the presence of this symbol in the score, or to be more precise in last bars of the Сoncerto, from the composer Alexander Knayfel in 1976.
  23. See, for example, the melodic phrase of oboe d'amore in bb. 22-23 (A — B — ES — D — E) in the Cello Concerto; the solo of the first tenor-saxophone, b. 21, and also aleatorical repeats in the 6th and 2nd viola parts of bb. 69 — 70 (B — ES — E/ES — D — A) in the finale of the Piano Concerto; the fragment of solo violin part in bb. 166 — 167 (A —B — ES — D — E) in the finale of the Violin Concerto, and the already entirely explicit ‘farewell to the beloved’ there in bb. 195-196 in the separate phrase for harp (B — ES — E — D — A), which is emphasized by the appearance for the second time of the quotation from Schubert's song ‘Morgengruß’ (The Morning Regards) from ‘Die schöne Müllerin’, setting the following words by Wilhelm Mueller:

    Guten Morgen, schöne Müllerin!
    Wo steckst du gleich das Köpfchen hin,
    Als wär dir was geschehen?
    Verdrießt dich denn mein Gruß so schwer?
    Verstört dich denn mein Blick so sehr?
    So muß ich wieder gehen.

    (Good morning, beautiful millermaid!
    Why do you so promptly turn your little head,
    As if something has happened to you?
    Do you dislike my greetings so profoundly?
    Does my glance disturb you so much?
    Then I must go on again.)

  24. Ю.Холопов, В.Ценова. Эдисон Денисов, М.: Композитор, 1993, с.102. In English: Yuri Kholopov and Valeria Tsenova: EDISON DENISOV. Harwood Academic publ., 1995, or Yuri Kholopov & Valeria Tsenova: Edison Denisov — The Russian Voice in European New Music; Berlin, Kuhn, 2002
  25. On the other hand, this is certainly the theme, if one accepts its wider definition: ‘musical thought as the basis of the construction of composition’. See Yuri Kholopov. "Principle of the classification of musical forms". In the collection Theoretical problems of musical forms and genres. Moscow. Music, 1971, p. 67.
  26. From the article ‘About the compositional processes,’ cited in Edison Denisov’s ‘Contemporary Music and the Problem of the Evolution of Composers’ Technology. Moscow: Soviet composer, 1986, p. 145.
  27. The Notebook I, No.9. Also: ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 35.
  28. The Development Section begins in b. 40 with the moving around D in the first violin part and E — F — D — E-flat — F in the flute part.
  29. At the beginning of the Recapitulation in b. 76, PTC (Principal Thematic Construction): D-sharp — E — F in the flute part; and STC (Subordinate Thematic Construction ): F — D — E-flat — D-flat in the first violin part.
  30. Coda end with …E — F — D-sharp… E — F — D-sharp — E and D passing from harp to flute in bb. 87-92. ‘La java’ is a dance, a kind of a fast waltz, popular
  31. ‘La java’ is a dance, a kind of a fast waltz, popular between 1910 and 1960 in France
  32. According to Edison Denisov, the conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky, preparing the Moscow premier of the Concerto, in order ‘to make his life easier’, himself inserted bar lines into the score.
  33. See: Dmitri Smirnov: Edison Denisov — Composer of Light, ‘Classical Music’ Magazine 22 April 1995 Series Editor: Terry Barfoot, The Repertoire Guide, p.25 also at the Web: [1].
  34. There is a mistake in the printed score: the last note in bar 64 is A, but not B as it printed. It is verified by the composer’s manuscript (DS, 2007).
  35. See, Yuri Kholopov, Valeria Tsenova. Edison Denisov. Moscow, Kompozitor, 1993, p. 102. The authors named the third movement ‘The Chorale for flute (cadenza)’ and wrote: ‘It is especially necessary to tell about the third movement. When Denisov began to write it, he received the information about Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich's death. The bad news cast a chill on the composer, and this was reflected in the choral of the third movement, a kind of homage to Shostakovich.’ The composer’s manuscript of the score contains the following dates of the composing:

    1st movement: 10 — 19 July 1975
    2nd movement 21 July — 12 August 1975
    3rd movement 13 — 17 August 1975
    4th movement 18 August — 7 September 1975

  36. The Notebook II, No.9. Also: ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 82.
  37. The Notebook I, No. 416. Also: ‘Unknown Denisov’, p. 77. Записки I, № 416. ‘Неизвестный Денисов’, с.77.

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