Elena Firsova was trained at the Moscow Conservatory under Alexander Pirumov (composition), Yuri Kholopov (analysis) and Nikolai Raskatov (orchestration). Beginning in 1975 she enjoyed intensive musical contact with Edison Denisov, who also introduced her to Philip Hershkovich, a Webern pupil who had emigrated from Vienna to Moscow. In 1990 she was co-founder of the Russian Society for New Music (ASM). Elena Firsova moved to England in 1991 where she lives with her family and is active as a lecturer and free-lance composer.
Through extensive and wide-ranging studies from 1970 until 1988, Firsova acquired a secure mastery of contemporary compositional techniques which is by no means limited to a single style. Firsova continues to develop the ideas of the Second Viennese School but treats the strictness of twelve-tone music freely, intentionally allowing for consonant sounds in the row formation and placing especial emphasis on melodic motifs.
Elena Firsova was born on 21 March 1950 in Leningrad and grew up in Moscow. Her parents were both physicists, her father Oleg Firsov, moreover, an important atomic physicist. She received her first instruction in composition at the age of 16. She studied at the Moscow Conservatory from 1970 until 1975. Starting in 1975 she received private instruction from Edison Denissov, who had published the first Russian article about the twelve-tone technique and made her familiar with contemporary music. In addition, she had lessons with Philip Hershkovitz, a pupil of Anton Webern and Alban Berg.
Her works were performed with great success in the western world beginning in 1979. During the same year, she and her husband, the composer Dmitri Smirnov, were attacked by the Composers’ Union as “not worthy of the Soviet Union.” During the course of perestroika, Elena Firssova first received permission to travel abroad. There was no lasting change in Russian musical life, however, since the influence of the functionaries of the Composers’ Union remained strong. She founded the association ASM together with Edison Denissov and Dmitri Smirnov, which performed contemporary music with its own ensemble at home and abroad. In 1990 Elena Firssova moved to England with her family.
Elena Firssova has so far composed well over 100 works, including operas, cantatas, concertos, orchestral works but also much chamber music. She received a commission for a composition for Expo 2000. Her “Achmatova Requiem” received its world premiere at the Berlin Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt in September 2003.
- International Women's Day 2020
- This International Women’s Day, we have released an update of our Celebrating Women Composers: A Timeline interactive brochure. Read the feature to find out more.