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Dmitri Smirnov obituary

Russian composer drawn to the words and images of William Blake who made Britain his home for three decades

The composer Dmitri Smirnov, who has died aged 71 of Covid-19, had a deep affinity with the poet William Blake. In 1967, when a new student at the Moscow Conservatoire, he was captivated by the paradoxes of Blake’s Auguries of Innocence: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour”. He had started learning English in search of texts to set to music, and, in time, turned to everything else Blake wrote and drew. Eventually he went on to produce published translations of all Blake’s completed works into Russian, and the language’s first biography of him (2016).https://blakequarterly.org/index.php/blake/article/viewArticle/smirnov514/smirnov514html

Blake’s words, images and ideas inspired more than 50 of Smirnov’s compositions. One of the first was his song cycle The Seasons (1979), a setting of the first four of Blake’s early Poetical Sketches. The following year he transformed and extended this cycle in purely orchestral terms, without voice, for his First Symphony, The Seasons, whose mastery of colour and texture helped establish his reputation internationally.

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