Biography 1

Since 1980 Denis Cohen has come forward as one of the most demanding personalities of his generation. He begins his studies at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris with classes in piano, harmony, counterpoint, analysis, piano accompaniment and composition. He graduates with four prizes and wins a silver medal at the International Piano Ccompetition of Finale (Liguria, Italy). In 1982 he becomes a resident at the Villa Medici in Rome and receives two Sacem awards.
Denis Cohen has often been classed in the « serial family », however he refuses the separation between serial and spectral that is often presented as a reality of contemporary music in France (in his article «Ulysse et les sirènes»). In his first works Fusion (1979), Hamilton multiphonic quintet (1980), Multisources for orchestra (1980), Trames for trio and sound track (1980), Denis Cohen claims the influence of Stockhausen with whom, in fact, he has never worked.
In 1980 he directs the Ensemble Intercontemporain and becomes its chief-assistant the following year. Since then, he has regularly been invited to conduct ensembles, orchestras, and choirs, about thirty in Europe alone, as well as in Australia and Israel.
One of his first concerts is with the Ensemble Intercontemporain for the creation of Transmutations for 16 instruments. In the space-time continuum where « foreseeability remains possible » for the listener, the music unfolds in seemingly endless possible combinations.
Aware that using traditional instruments creates the danger of connotation, Denis Cohen likes to « subvert » instrumental sound with, for example, the transformed bass in Transmutations. And he is naturally interested in the junction between the piano and Ircam’s 4X, as in Jeux (1984-88).

Since 1982 voice is more and more present in his music with Cantate for two female voices and ensemble, and La Cassure des nuages. These pieces attest to his interest in the relation between poetic text and music. With Ajax-Opéra interrompu, created in 1984 at Musica, Denis Cohen takes a first step towards the world of opera. If this genre has been very popular with composers for the last decade, Denis Cohen approaches it under certain conditions, following a long history that goes from Monteverdi to Zimmermann ; one might say the opera « after the opera ».
The symphonic and vocal cycle that resulted from this reflection on the possible relations between the theatrical and the musical begins in 1986. It includes the purely orchestral pieces Close Islands (1986), Etude pour le poème (1987). Sprache is written for four singers presenting texts in five languages, a speaker and orchestra. It is an « imaginary painting » that exposes, spatializes « the paradigms of operatic characters brought to the stage as images ». This trilogy is followed by a pentalogy in which the orchestra returns to the pit, and each opera of this cycle in gestation « examines » a national paradigm connected to each one of the five languages of Sprache.
Among the more recent pieces are Il sogno di Dedalo (1991) for 16 instruments, of a more definite style, as well as À Dante for two female voices and two clarinets (1991), and Les neuf cercles d'Alighieri (1992) for soprano and orchestra, these last two pieces based on the beginning of Canto III of Dante’s Hell.
In Alighieri the discourse progresses towards the gate of hell by accumulation, saturation, in the great, excessive harmonies of the orchestra, to the extreme point where music risks losing all meaning. Here Denis Cohen’s intention is perhaps that there is a danger in meaningless gestuality and in a kind of consensus that produces lifeless ideas and precedes the fall into emptiness.
Note the works of the last CD : Les neuf cercles d'Alighieri, Pyramoides, Flexus, Il Sogno di dedalo.

Michel Rigoni