Back to the unbelievable wooden architecture, and not only that, of my beloved Tomsk. This is the house, at 30 Kuznetsov Street, where the great composer Edison Denisov was born in 1929. As the plaque around the right hand-side corner of the building proclaims, he lived here until 1951, at which time he left for Moscow to study composition at the Moscow Conservatory. There’s a pretty good story behind that little biographical blip. Denisov at that time had been studying for several years in the physics and mathematics department at Tomsk University when he won a student contest for one of his compositions (he also studied in a local musical college). That victory gave him the nerve to send several of his compositions to none other than Dmitry Shostakovich, who wrote back something to the effect of, “You need to be doing this seriously, kid.” According to Russian Wikipedia, from whom I am taking a good deal of info here, Denisov graduated from the conservatory in 1956 but his work was not received well in the Soviet Union for it was rather too “avant-garde.” The West, meanwhile, apparently received him as the “Mozart of the 20th Century.” In 1979 Denisov’s work came under serious attack from official circles, led by the head of the Composer’s Union Tikhon Khrennikov. I mention this specifically because Khrennikov is often held high as a symbol of late Soviet-era music these days. I don’t know his music, I can’t say. What I can say is that this would appear to be another example of contemporary Russia forgetting many important things – the kinds of things that just might help that great nation make a few useful changes were it to remember them. But now I’ve gone very far afield. To finish the sprint bio: Denisov was seriously injured in a car accident in 1994 and he went to Paris, where he was a major star, to recuperate. He died in Paris two years later.
The Denisov family did not own or occupy all of this gorgeous building. His father was a prominent scholar at Tomsk University and his mother was a phthisiologist at the local tuberculosis clinic. As such they were given rooms in this building occupied by many other equally learned individuals. My friend, the Tomsk expert, Pavel Rachkovsky told me, as we walked around the Edison house, that there could easily be many more plaques on this home – such was the quality of those inhabiting it. That’s important for the world of music, for when you think of little Edison running up and down corridors and brushing shoulders, glances and an occasional word with all kinds of talented people in various disciplines, you get a feel for the atmosphere of accomplishment and precision in which he grew up. Denisov’s father, whose field of interest was radiophysics, was instrumental in setting up radio and telecommunications in Tomsk.