(b Trent, 1716; d Milan, 1782). Austrian patron of music. Born into a noble family, he studied initially for the priesthood in Bavaria and continued his education in Innsbruck and Salzburg. After travelling in the Netherlands, France and Italy, he was (from 1745) a counsellor to Francis, Maria Theresa’s husband and later Emperor Francis I. In 1758 he became Austrian minister plenipotentiary of Milan, and in this capacity he was responsible for many reforms in science, education and art. During Mozart’s four visits to Milan (1770–73) Firmian was his most important patron: Mozart performed several tunes at his residence, the Palazzo Melzi, and his support was instrumental in the commissioning of many of Mozart’s Milanese works, notably Mitridate, re di Ponto. His opulent lifestyle, library and portrait gallery are described by Burney, who visited Milan in 1770.
L.Benvenuti: Carlo Conte di Firmian e la Lombardia (Trent, 1872)
E.Garms-Cornides: ‘Überlegungen zu einer Karriere im Dienst Maria Theresias: Karl Graf Firmian (1716–1782)’, Österreich im Europa der Aufklärung: Vienna 1980, ed. R.G. Plaschka and others (Vienna, 1985), 547–55
C.Wysocki: ‘Il giovane Mozart e il conte Firmian’, Mozart e i musicisti italiani del suo tempo: Rome 1991, 81–8
H.J.Wignall: Mozart, Guglielmo d’Ettore and the Composition of ‘Mitridate’ (K.87/74a) (diss., Brandeis U., 1995), i, 109–25
HARRISON JAMES WIGNALL
Firsova, Elena [Yelena] (Olegovna)
(b Leningrad [now St Petersburg], 21 March 1950). Russian composer. She began to compose at the age of 12 and, four years later, began attending music college in Moscow, where she quickly blossomed as the schoolgirl composer of ten pieces (including opp.1–3) that still figure in her list of works. Entering the Moscow Conservatory in 1970, she became a composition pupil of Aleksandr Pirumov for the next five years; she also studied analysis with Yury Kholopov. A further ten works (opp.4–13) date from these student years, including her first three orchestral works and her first chamber opera.
The 15 years after leaving the conservatory took her from op.14 to op.47 – not counting a number of smaller pieces without opus numbers. Her music was first performed abroad in 1979, and her first foreign commission (from the BBC) came in 1984. Within a few years, changes occurred internationally and personally, and not long after the travel barriers were removed, Firsova and her husband, the composer Dmitry Smirnov, left Moscow. Arriving in London in April 1991 with their two young children, both composers survived by writing music to commission (Firsova herself completing six works in 1991 alone) and by means of short-term residency invitations from Cambridge University and from Dartington College of Arts; they were attached to the music department at the University of Keele from 1993 to 1998 and in 1998 they became British citizens.
Firsova’s work may perhaps best be likened to that of the short-story writer; with the exception of her chamber opera, Solovey i roza (‘The Nightingale and the Rose’) few of her pieces extend much beyond a quarter of an hour’s duration and most are cast in a single unbroken span. As in the one movement Piano Sonata (1986) she once thought to dedicate to Alban Berg, her mature harmonic language of the 1980s reveals its indebtedness to the early 20th-century Viennese composers; at the same time, loose-limbed rhythms and often unbarred metre owes much to the French influence of Messiaen and Boulez promoted by her friend and unofficial mentor Edison Denisov.
Like the partly private language of the poets she so admires and has so often set, her later musical secrets are contained by a more personalized library of characteristic gestures that may, but often do not, suggest narrative threads of a noticeably motivic kind. While the background pulse of her music is generally slow-moving, contrasts of speed and of mood are achieved less through metre or theme than through an increase or decrease in the amount of foreground activity that continues to animate the textures of the filigree style that she has made her own.
librettos by the composer
Pir vo vremya chumï [A Feast in Time of Plague], op.7 (chbr op, after A. Pushkin), 5 solo vv, chbr chorus, orch, 1972
Solovey i roza [The Nightingale and the Rose], op.46 (chbr op, 1, after C. Rossetti and O. Wilde), 3 solo vv, SSAATTBB, inst ens, 1991; London, Almeida, 7 July 1994