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Elena Firsova

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Title: Elena Firsova  
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Subject: Dmitri Smirnov (composer), Edison Denisov, Yuri Kholopov, Viktor Suslin, The opera corpus
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Elena Firsova

Elena Firsova, 2003

Elena Olegovna Firsova (Russian: Еле́на Оле́говна Фи́рсова; also Yelena or Jelena Firssowa; born 21 March 1950) is a Russian composer.


  • Life 1
  • Selected works 2
  • Selected discography 3
  • Bibliography 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Firsova was born in Leningrad into the family of physicists Oleg Firsov and Viktoria Lichko. She studied music in Moscow with Alexander Pirumov, Yuri Kholopov, Edison Denisov and Philip Herschkowitz. In 1979 she was blacklisted as one of the "Khrennikov's Seven" at the Sixth Congress of the Union of Soviet Composers for unapproved participation in some festivals of Soviet music in the West. She is married to the composer Dmitri Smirnov and they currently live in the United Kingdom. Their children are Philip Firsov (an artist and sculptor), and Alissa Firsova (a composer, pianist and conductor).

She composed more than a hundred compositions in many different genres including chamber opera The Nightingale and the Rose after Oscar Wilde and Christina Rossetti (premiered at the 1994 Almeida Opera Festival, London), an orchestra work Augury, (premiered at the 1992 BBC Proms) that includes a choral setting of William Blake's famous lines 'To see the world in a grain of sand...' and Requiem to Anna Akhmatova's poem for soprano, chorus and orchestra (premiered at the Berlin Konzerthouse in September 2003).

Her favourite genre is a chamber cantata for solo voice and ensemble (or orchestra). Some of them are written to the poems by Alexander Pushkin, Marina Tsvetaeva, Boris Pasternak and Oleg Prokofiev. However, the most of them are setting the poems by her favourite poet Osip Mandelstam that include Earthly Life, Tristia, The Stone, Forest Walks, Before the Thunderstorm, Stygian Song, Secret Way, Seashell, Whirlpool, Silentium, Winter Songs, and Petrarch's Sonnets (in Russian translation by Osip Mandelstam).

She received commissions from many music festivals, orchestras and ensembles including the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Brodsky Quartet, Manchester Wind Orchestra, Schubert Ensemble, Freden Festival, BBC Proms and Expo 2000 (Hanover). Her music is available through publishers Boosey & Hawkes, London; Hans Sikorski, Hamburg; G. Schirmer, New York.

Selected works

  • Suite for viola solo, Op. 2 (1967)
  • A Feast in Time of Plague, chamber opera after Alexander Pushkin (1973)
  • Cello Concerto No.1 (1973)
  • Petrarch's Sonnets (translated by Osip Mandelstam) for voice and ensemble (1976)
  • Chamber Concerto No. 1 for flute and strings (1978)
  • The Night for voice and saxophone quartet (Boris Pasternak, 1978)
  • Tristia, cantata for voice and chamber orchestra (Mandelstam, 1979)
  • Three Poems of Osip Mandelstam, for voice and piano (1980)
  • Misterioso (String Quartet No. 3, 1980)
  • Shakespeare's Sonnets for voice and organ (or saxophone quartet, 1981)
  • Chamber Concerto No. 2 (Cello Concerto No. 2, 1982)
  • The Stone, cantata for voice and symphony orchestra (Mandelstam, 1983)
  • Violin Concerto No. 2 (1983)
  • Earthly Life, chamber cantata for soprano and ensemble (Mandelstam, 1984)
  • Chamber Concerto No.3 (Piano Concerto No. 1, 1985)
  • Music for 12 for ensemble (1986)
  • Forest walks, cantata for soprano and ensemble (Mandelstam, 1987)
  • Chamber Concerto No. 4 – for horn and ensemble (1987)
  • Augury for chorus and orchestra (William Blake 1988)
  • Amoroso (String Quartet No. 4, 1989)
  • Nostalgia for orchestra (1989)
  • Stygian Song for soprano and chamber ensemble (Mandelstam, 1989)
  • Odyssey for 7 players (1990)
  • The Nightingale and the Rose, chamber opera (Oscar Wilde/Christina Rossetti, 1991)
  • Seashell for soprano and ensemble (Mandelstam, 1991)
  • Whirlpool for voice, flute and percussion (Mandelstam, 1991)
  • Silentium for voice and string quartet (Mandelstam, 1991)
  • Secret Way for voice and orchestra (Mandelstam, 1992)
  • Distance for voice, clarinet and string quartet (Marina Tsvetaeva, 1992)
  • Lagrimoso, (String Quartet No. 5, 1992)
  • Cassandra, for orchestra (1992)
  • Insomnia, for four singers (Pushkin, 1993)
  • Before the Thunderstorm, cantata for soprano and ensemble (Mandelstam, 1994)
  • String Quartet No. 6 (1994)
  • Compassione (String Quartet No. 7, 1995)
  • The Stone Guest (String Quartet No. 8, 1995)
  • No, it is not a Migraine for baritone and piano (Mandelstam, 1995)
  • Chamber Concerto No. 5 (Cello Concerto No. 3, 1996)
  • The Door is Closed (String Quartet No. 9, 1996)
  • Chamber Concerto No. 6 (Piano Concerto No. 2, 1996)
  • The River of Time for chorus and chamber orchestra in memory of Edison Denisov (Gavrila Derzhavin, 1997)
  • La malinconia (String Quartet No. 10, 1998)
  • Captivity for wind orchestra (1998)
  • Leaving for string orchestra (1998)
  • The Scent of Absence for bass, flute and harp (Oleg Prokofiev, 1998)
  • Das erste ist vergangen (Christushymnus 2000) (The Former Things are Passed Away) for soprano, bass, mixed choir, and chamber orchestra (Franz Kafka, Bible, etc., 1999)
  • Requiem for soprano, chorus and orchestra (Anna Akhmatova, 2001)
  • Winter Songs for soprano and cello (Mandelstam, 2003)
  • The Garden of Dreams (Homage to Dmitri Shostakovich) for orchestra (2004)
  • Farewell (String Quartet No.12, 2005)
  • Black Bells for piano and ensemble (2005)
  • For Slava for solo cello (2007)
  • Purgatorio (String Quartet No. 11, completed in 2008)

Selected discography

  • Misterioso, String Quartet No.3 Op.24 in: Lydian Quartet in Moscow: Firsova, Chaushian, Child, Lee Art and Electronics: AED 10108 Stereo
  • Amoroso, String Quartet No.4 Op.40 in: Chilingirian Quartet: Stravinsky, Schnittke, Smirnov, Roslavets, Firsova: Music for String Quartet, Conifer Classics 75605 512522
  • La Malinconia, String Quartet No.10 Op.84 in: Brodsky Quartet: Beethoven Op.18 and six more: Alvarez, Beamish, Firsova, Jegede, Smirnov, Tanaka, Vanguard Classics 99212
  • Chamber Concerto No.1 for Flute and Strings Op.19 in: Works by modern composers of Moscow: Smirnov, Bobilev, Firsova, Pavlenko, Artiomov, Mobile Fidelity MFCD 906
  • Cassandra for symphony orchestra Op.60 (1992) together with Sofia Gubaidulina: Pro et contra BIS CD-668 STEREO
  • The Mandelstam Cantatas (Forest Walks, Earthly Life, Before the Thunderstorm) Studio for New Music Moscow, Igor Dronov, conductor; Ekaterina Kichigina, soprano Megadisc MDC 7816 see at Megadisc site


  • Elena Firsova: On Music; in Sovjetische Music in Licht der Perestroika, pp. 337–8, Laaber-Verlag, Germany, (German translation by Hannelore Gerlach and Jürgen Köchel) 1990


  • Yuri Kholopov: Russians in England: Dmitri Smirnov, Elena Firsova. Article, in: Music From the Former USSR. Issue 2. Moscow: Composer, 1996, pp. 255–303; Ex oriente...: Ten Composers from the Former USSR. Berlin: Verlag Ernst Kuhn, 2002, pp. 207–266 ISBN 3-928864-84-X
  • Firsova, Yelena Olegovna by Stephen Johnson, in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992) ISBN 0-333-73432-7

External links

  • Brief biography at Boosey & Hawkes site
  • Composer's home page
  • Texts of her vocal works at "Recmusic"
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