Elena Firsova

From Unearthing The Music

Elena Firsova in 2000. Photo sourced from Wikipedia

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


Firsova was born in Leningrad into the family of physicists Oleg Firsov and Viktoria Lichko.[1] 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 was married to the composer Dmitri Smirnov and lives in the United Kingdom. Their children are Philip Firsov (an artist and sculptor), and Alissa Firsova (a composer, pianist and conductor).[1]

She has composed more than a hundred works 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 Konzerthaus Berlin in September 2003).[1]

Her favourite genre is the chamber cantata for solo voice and ensemble (or orchestra). Some of her pieces in this genre are written to the poems by Alexander Pushkin, Marina Tsvetaeva, Boris Pasternak and Oleg Prokofiev. However, 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).[1]

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


  • Piano Trio, Op. 8 (1972) 9'. Trio, cl, vn, pfn, 1990, 9'. Boosey & Hawkes.
  • 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 after Oscar Wilde and 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


  • Misterioso, String Quartet No.3 Op.24 in: Lydian Quartet in Moscow: E. Firsova, Chaushian, Child, Lee Art and Electronics: AED 10108 Stereo
  • Amoroso, String Quartet No.4 Op.40 in: Chilingirian Quartet: Stravinsky, Schnittke, Smirnov, Roslavets, E. 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, E. 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, E. 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 [2]
  • For Alissa Op. 102 (2002) in: RUSSIAN ÉMIGRÉS: Rachmaninov, Smirnov, E. Firsova, A. Firsova: Alissa Firsova, piano: Vivat 109 DDD
  • Homage to Canisy, Op.129 for Cello & Piano
  • Lost Vision, Op. 137 for Piano Solo
  • A Triple Portrait, Op.132, commissioned by Marsyas Trio (2011)
  • Night Songs, Op.125 for Mezzo-Soprano, Flute & Cello
  • Spring Sonata, Op.27 for Flute & Piano
  • For Slava, Op.120 for Solo Cello
  • Meditation in the Japanese Garden, Op.54 for Flute, Cello & Piano
  • Three Poems of Osip Mandelstam, Op.23 for Soprano & Piano
  • Tender is the Sorrow, Op.130 for Flute, String Trio and Piano in: A Triple Portrait. Chamber Music by Elena Firsova – Marsyas Trio, Meridian: CDE84635 [3]


  1. Flechsig, Amrei. "Jelena Firssowa". (in German). Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  2. "MDC7816 – Elena Firsova – The Mandelstam Cantatas". 20 September 2005. Archived from the original on 20 September 2005.
  3. "CDE84635 Marsyas Trio".
  4. 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


  1. 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
  2. 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

Text adapted from Wikipedia