Seven Minutes of Tone Row Meditations

© Charles Thibo

At work. Time suspended. A revelation, once more. Edison Denisov’s music. Three Pieces for Cello and Piano, written in 1967. Clarity. Darkness. The legacy of the Soviet Union, the dogma of Socialist Realism and the intrusion of serialism*. Wrap your arms around me. A water drop is falling. Memories of Birtwistle’s piece … What a fascinating piece! Seven minutes of a musical meditation. How weird it must have sounded in a Moscow concert hall in the 1960s.

Denisov wrote this piece for Natalia Gutman, a Russian cellist who studied with Mstislav Rostropovich. Notwithstanding its title, Three Pieces for Cello and Piano is meant to be played as one piece. The three sections are linked by a common tone row. The composer’s intend was to use avant-garde compositional techniques to expressive ends. The musical writer Andrew Lindemann Malone writes that Denisov was in search “his spiritual links to archetypal Russian composers such as Modest Mussorgsky.”

As a matter of fact I have some trouble to find anything linked to Mussorgsky’s musical language in this composition. But then again I do not know Mussorgsky’s music good enough to make an informed judgment. John Warrak in a piece for the magazine “Gramophone” sees Anton Webern as a source of inspiration for Denisov’s work. And my first line of thought was Birtwistle’s piece “Bogenstrich”, written between 2006 and 2009. Confusing. This probably is the wrong approach. Denisov’s piece is unique, a musical experiment, a musical meditation, unlike any other.

As such, his music must speak for itself and I can offer little help. You need to find out for yourself if and how Denisov speaks to you. The more I listen to it, the more I discover its subtleties, its nuances. And perhaps it is useful to say quote a few lines from the article that Michael Norsworthy and Gerard McBurney wrote for Oxford Music Online on Denisov: “In the hothouse atmosphere of the Brezhnev era Moscow intelligentsia he was a leader and a beacon, one of the few quite unafraid of the fiercest official criticisms and censure and, as such, a model of single-minded principle.”

Three Pieces for Cello and PIano has been recorded by Alexander Klechevsky and Alexander Zagorinsky.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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