Music: Henri Dutilleux - Ainsi la nuit - String Quartet (1976) - Bio data - Links

Posted by Ricardo Marcenaro | Posted in | Posted on 19:27

Henri Dutilleux - Ainsi la nuit - String Quartet (1976)

Quatuor à cordes, "Ainsi la nuit" (1976)

I. Nocturne - Parenthèse I
II. Miroir d'espace - Parenthèse II
III. Litanies - Parenthèse III
IV. Litanies II - Parenthèse IV
V. Constellations
VI. Nocturne II
VII. Temps suspendu

A work for string quartet by the contemporary French composer Henri Dutilleux (born 1916), who turns 95 later this month (on the 22nd of January). "Ainsi la nuit" ("Thus the night") is one of only a handful chamber works by Dutilleux, although he has expressed his intention to compose a second string quartet in the future. "Ainsi la nuit" was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation to be performed by the Juilliard Quartet. The compositional process took nearly five years, during which Dutilleux thoroughly familiarized himself with string instruments and studied scores of works such as Anton Webern's "Six Bagatelles" and Alban Berg's "Lyric Suite". The Quatuor Parrénin actually premiered the work in 1977, but the Juilliard Quartet eventually performed it at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the following year.

In this recording, "Ainsi la nuit" is performed by the Belcea Quartet

Henri Dutilleux (French: [ɑ̃ʁi dytijø]; 22 January 1916 – 22 May 2013) was a French composer active mainly in the second half of the 20th century. His work, which garnered international acclaim, followed in the tradition of Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, and Albert Roussel, but in an idiosyncratic style.

Some of his notable compositions include a piano sonata, two symphonies, the cello concerto Tout un monde lointain (A whole distant world), the violin concerto L'arbre des songes (The tree of dreams) and the string quartet Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night). Some of these are regarded as masterpieces of 20th-century classical music.[1] Works were commissioned from him by such major artists as Charles Munch, George Szell, Mstislav Rostropovich, the Juilliard String Quartet, Isaac Stern, Paul Sacher, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Simon Rattle, Renée Fleming and Seiji Ozawa.

Writing in the New York Times, Paul Griffiths said: "Mr. Dutilleux’s position in French music was proudly solitary. Between Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez in age, he was little affected by either, though he took an interest in their work. .. But his voice, marked by sensuously handled harmony and color, was his own."[2]

Dutilleux was awarded several major prizes throughout his career, notably the Grand Prix de Rome (1938), UNESCO's International Rostrum of Composers (1955), the Grand-Croix de la Légion d'honneur (2004), the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize (2005), the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society (2008) and the Kravis Prize (2011).

In addition to his activities as a composer, he worked as the Head of Music Production for Radio France for 18 years. He also taught at the École Normale de Musique de Paris, at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique and was twice composer in residence at the Tanglewood music centre in Lenox and Stockbridge, Massachusetts.


Henri Dutilleux was born on 22 January 1916 in Angers, Maine-et-Loire. He was the great-grandson of the painter Constant Dutilleux and of the composer Julien Koszul. He was also a cousin of the mathematician Jean-Louis Koszul. As a young man he studied harmony, counterpoint and piano with Victor Gallois at the Douai Conservatory before leaving for the Paris Conservatoire. There, between 1933 and 1938, he attended the classes of Jean and Noël Gallon (harmony and counterpoint), Henri Büsser (composition) and Maurice Emmanuel (history of music).

Dutilleux won the Prix de Rome in 1938 for his cantata L'anneau du roi but did not complete his entire residency in Rome due to the outbreak of World War II. He worked for a year as a medical orderly in the army and then returned to Paris in 1940, where he worked as a pianist, arranger and music teacher. In 1942 he conducted the choir of the Paris Opera.

Dutilleux worked as Head of Music Production for Radio France from 1945 to 1963. He served as Professor of Composition at the École Normale de Musique de Paris from 1961 to 1970. He was appointed to the staff of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in 1970 and was composer in residence at Tanglewood in 1995 and 1998. His students included the French composers Gérard Grisey and Francis Bayer, the Canadian composers Alain Gagnon and Jacques Hétu, the British composer Kenneth Hesketh, and the American composers Derek Bermel and David S. Sampson. Invited by Walter Fink, he was the 16th composer featured in the annual Komponistenporträt of the Rheingau Musik Festival in 2006.

Dutilleux died on 22 May 2013 in Paris.[3]

Influences and style

Dutilleux's music extends the legacies of earlier French composers such as Debussy and Ravel but is also clearly influenced by Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky. His attitude towards serialism is more ambiguous. While he always paid attention to the developments of contemporary music and incorporated some serialist techniques into his own compositions,[4] he also criticized the more radical and intolerant aspects of the movement: "What I reject is the dogma and the authoritarianism which manifested themselves in that period".[5] As an independent composer, Dutilleux always refused to be associated with any school.[6] Rather, his works merge the traditions of earlier composers and post-World War II innovations and translate them into his own idiosyncratic style. His music also contains distant echoes of jazz as can be heard in the plucked double bass strings at the very beginning of his First Symphony and his frequent use of syncopated rhythms.

Dutilleux was greatly enamoured of vocalists, especially the jazz singer Sarah Vaughan and the great French chanson singers.[7]

Some of Dutilleux's trademarks include very refined orchestral textures; complex rhythms; a preference for atonality and modality over tonality; the use of pedal points that serve as atonal pitch centers;[8] and "reverse variation," by which a theme is not exposed immediately but rather revealed gradually, appearing in its complete form only after a few partial, tentative expositions.[9] His music also displays a very strong sense of structure and symmetry. This is particularly obvious from an "external" point of view i.e., the overall organisation of the different movements or the spatial distribution of the various instruments, but is also apparent in the music itself (themes, harmonies and rhythms mirroring, complementing or opposing each other). According to Stuart Jefferies, "A passage may be conceived as a symmetrical shape of notes on paper and only later given musical substance. He loves symmetrical musical figures such as palindromes or fan-shaped phrases..."[10][11]

Dutilleux's music was often influenced by art and literature, such as the works of Vincent van Gogh,[12] Charles Baudelaire[13] and Marcel Proust.[14] It also shows a concern for the concepts of time and memory, both in its use of quotations (notably from Béla Bartók, Benjamin Britten and Jehan Alain), and in short interludes that recall material used in earlier movements and/or introduce ideas that will be fully developed later.

A perfectionist with a strong sense of artistic integrity, he allowed only a small number of his works to be published; what he did publish he often repeatedly revised.


Dutilleux numbered as Op. 1 his Piano Sonata (1946–1948), written for the pianist Geneviève Joy, whom he had married in 1946. He renounced most of the works he composed before it because he did not believe them to be representative of his mature standards, considering many of them to be too derivative to have merit.[15]

After the Piano Sonata, Dutilleux started working on his First Symphony (1951). It consists of four monothematic movements and has a perfectly symmetrical structure: music slowly emerges from silence (1st movement—a passacaglia) and builds towards a fast climax (2nd—a scherzo and moto perpetuo), keeps its momentum (3rd—"a continuous melodic line that never goes back on itself"), and finally slowly fades out (4th—a theme and variations).[16]

In 1953, Dutilleux wrote the music for the ballet Le loup ("The Wolf").

In his Second Symphony, titled Le double (1959), the orchestra is divided into two groups: a small one at the front with instruments taken from the various sections (brass, woodwind, strings and percussion) and a bigger one at the back consisting of the rest of the orchestra. Although this brings to mind the Baroque concerto grosso, the approach is different: in this piece, the smaller ensemble acts as a mirror or ghost of the bigger one, sometimes playing similar or complementary lines, sometimes contrasting ones.[17]

His next work, Métaboles (for orchestra, 1965) explores the idea of metamorphosis, how a series of subtle and gradual changes can radically transform a structure. A different section of the orchestra dominates each of the first four movements before the fifth brings them all together for the finale. As a result, it can be considered as a concerto for orchestra.[18] It quickly achieved celebrity and, following its première by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, was performed in several North American cities, then in France.[19] Métaboles is now one of his most often performed works.[20]

In the mid-1960s, Dutilleux met Mstislav Rostropovich, who commissioned him to write a cello concerto. Rostropovich premièred the work, titled Tout un monde lointain..., in 1970. It is one of the most important additions to the cello repertoire of the second half of the 20th century[21][22] and is considered one of the composer's major achievements.[23]

After the cello concerto, Dutilleux turned to chamber music for the first time in more than 20 years and published various works for piano (3 Préludes, Figures de résonances) and 3 strophes sur le nom de Sacher (1976–1982) for solo cello. The latter work was originally composed on the occasion of Paul Sacher's 70th birthday in 1976, on a request by the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich to write compositions for cello solo using his name spelt out in musical notes as the theme eS-A-C-H-E-Re (Es is E-flat in German, H is B-natural in German, and Re is D in French; see Sacher hexachord). He also wrote the string quartet Ainsi la Nuit (1976). It consists of seven movements, some of which are linked by short "parentheses". The function of these parentheses is to recall material that has already been heard and to introduce fragments that will be fully developed later.[24] Each movement highlights various special effects (pizzicato, glissandi, harmonics, extreme registers, contrasting dynamics...) resulting in a difficult but fascinating work.[24]

He then returned to orchestral works in 1978 with Timbres, espace, mouvement ou la nuit etoilée, inspired by Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night. In this composition, Dutilleux attempted to translate into musical terms the opposition between emptiness and movement conveyed by the painting. The work employs a string section of only lower-register instruments: cellos and double basses, no violins or violas.[24]

In 1985, Isaac Stern premiered L'arbre des songes, a violin concerto that he had commissioned Dutilleux to write. Like its cello counterpart, it is an important addition to the instrument's 20th century repertoire. However, it is completely atonal, more in the mold of Arnold Schoenberg or Alban Berg, than of Ravel, Debussy or Roussel.[original research?]

Dutilleux later wrote Mystère de l'instant (for cymbalum, string orchestra and percussion, 1989), Les Citations (for oboe, harpsichord, double bass and percussion, 1991), The Shadows of Time (for orchestra and children voices, 1997), Slava's Fanfare (for Rostropovich's 70th birthday, 1997) and Sur le même accord (for violin and orchestra, 2002 – dedicated to Anne-Sophie Mutter).

In 2003, he completed Correspondances, a song-cycle for soprano and orchestra inspired by poems and letters by Prithwindra Mukherjee, Rainer Maria Rilke, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Vincent van Gogh. This work has received a very enthusiastic reception and has been programmed several times since its première.[25]

One of his last works was another song-cycle entitled Le temps l'horloge,[26] written for American soprano Renée Fleming. It consists of four pieces and an instrumental interlude on two poems by Jean Tardieu, one by Robert Desnos and one by Charles Baudelaire. The first three songs were premièred at the Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto, Japan in September 2007. The American première of this partial version took place in November 2007 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.[27] The complete work was unveiled on 7 May 2009 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.[28][29]

In 2010, Dutilleux added a third movement to his chamber work Les Citations.[30] The expanded version was premiered at the Festival d’Auvers-sur-Oise.

In 2011, Pascal Gallois transcribed, with Dutilleux's approval, his Deux sonnets de Jean Cassou for bassoon and piano (originally for baritone and piano). He played them in a concert at the Hôtel de Lauzun in presence of the composer.[31]

While Dutilleux allowed only a small number of his works to be published, he talked several times about his projects in the 1990s and 2000s. He expressed the wish to write more chamber music[32] and notably mentionned a second string quartet, a piece for clarinet and ensemble, one for solo double bass as well as some additional piano préludes.[33][34][35] He long considered composing an opera but abandonned that project because he could not find a libretto that appealed to him.[34][36]

Those who commissioned works from Dutilleux included Charles Munch (Symphony No. 2, Le double), George Szell (Métaboles), Mstislav Rostropovich (Tout un monde lointain and Timbres, espace, mouvement), Isaac Stern (L'arbre des songes), Anne-Sophie Mutter (Sur le même accord) and Seiji Ozawa (The Shadows of Time and Le temps l'horloge).


Dutilleux disowned many of the compositions he wrote before his Piano Sonata (1948). They are listed separately under Early works.


    Symphony No. 1 (1951)
    Symphony No. 2 Le double (1959)
    Métaboles (1964)
    Timbres, espace, mouvement ou la nuit etoilée (1978)
    Mystère de l'instant (1989)
    The Shadows of Time, for three children's voices and orchestra (1997)
    Slava's Fanfare for spatial ensemble (1997)


    Cello Concerto – Tout un monde lointain... [A whole distant world] (1970)
    Violin Concerto – L'arbre des songes [The Tree of Dreams] (1985)
    Nocturne for violin and orchestra Sur le même accord [On just one chord] (2002)


    String Quartet Ainsi la nuit [Thus the night] (1976)
    Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher [Three stanzas on the name Sacher] for solo cello (1976–1982)
    Les citations for oboe, harpsichord, double bass and percussion (1985/1991/2010)
    Deux sonnets de Jean Cassou for bassoon and piano (1954/2011 – transcription of the vocal work)


    Piano Sonata (1948)
    Blackbird (1951)
    Tous les chemins mènent à Rome [All roads lead to Rome] (1963)
    Bergerie (1963)
    Résonances (1965)
    Figures de résonances (1970) for two pianos
    Trois Préludes (1973–1988):
        D'ombre et de silence [In shadow and silence] (1973)
        Sur un même accord [On one chord] (1977)
        Le jeu des contraires [The game of oppposites] (1988)
    Petit air à dormir debout [Little nonsensical air] (1981)


    Deux sonnets de Jean Cassou, for baritone and piano or baritone and orchestra (1954)
    San Francisco Night, for voice and piano (1963)
    Hommage à Nadia Boulanger, for soprano, 3 violas, clarinet, percussion and zither (1967)
    Correspondances, for soprano and orchestra (2003)
    Le temps l'horloge, for soprano and orchestra (2007–2009)


    Le loup (1953)


    Choral, cadence et fugato for trombone and symphonic band (1995 – same as the chamber work, orchestrated by Claude Pichaureau)

Early works

Dutilleux disowned most of these pieces, written before his Piano Sonata of 1948. Some of them are nonetheless played and recorded regularly, in particular the Sonatine for Flute and Piano.

    Four Exam Pieces for the Paris Conservatoire (1942–1954)
        Sarabande et cortège for bassoon and piano (1942)
        Sonatine for Flute and Piano (1943)
        Oboe Sonata (1947)
        Choral, cadence et fugato for trombone and piano (1950)


    Barque d'or [The Golden Boat] for soprano and piano (1937)
    Cantata L'anneau du roi [The King's Ring] (1938)
    Quatre mélodies [Four Melodies] for voice and piano (1943)
    La geôle [The Prison] for voice and orchestra (1944)


    Au gré des ondes (1946) [Along the waves]

Stature and tributes

Following Dutilleux's death, the composer and conductor Laurent Petitgirard paid tribute to him as "one of the very rare contemporary composers" whose music became part of the repertoire in his lifetime, predicting that "[h]is work will remain intensely present after his death".[37]

Several major musicians and conductors championed Dutilleux's works notably Charles Munch, George Szell, Mstislav Rostropovich, the Juilliard String Quartet, Isaac Stern, Paul Sacher, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Simon Rattle, Renee Fleming and Seiji Ozawa.

The conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen said of his music: "His production is rather small but every note has been weighed with golden scales... It's just perfect – very haunting, very beautiful. There’s some kind of sadness in his music which I find very touching and arresting."[38]

The critic Tom Service, writing for the BBC, said: "Dutilleux's exquisite catalogue of pieces is becoming, rightly, ever more popular with performers and listeners all over the world".[39]

An obituary in Gramophone commented that "Dutilleux represented a generation of musicians with roots almost back into the 19th century; certainly his music can be seen in a direct line from that of his great predecessors Debussy and Ravel."[40]

Roger Nichols, in an obituary in The Guardian, described him as "the outstanding French composer between Messiaen and Boulez", adding that he "achieved a wholly individual synthesis of ear-catching colours and harmonies with formal rigour."[41]

The Daily Telegraph said: "Because Dutilleux was a perfectionist and self-critical to a fault, his output was small. He wrote barely a dozen major works in his career, destroyed much of his early music and often revised what he had written. His early work was clearly derivative of Ravel, Debussy and Roussel; but his later music, though influenced by Bartok and Stravinsky, was entirely original and often seemed—in its scale—more German than French."

However, The Daily Telegraph’s critic Philip Hensher described Dutilleux as "the Laura Ashley of music; tasteful, unfaultable, but hardly ever daring ... Personally," Hensher admitted, "I can’t stick him."[42]

In June 2013 Rob Cowan, a BBC Radio 3 presenter, recalled his interview with Dutilleux, in which he had named his personal favourite of his own work as Tout un monde lointain.[43]

Awards and prizes

    Grand Prix de Rome (for his cantata L'Anneau du Roi) – 1938
    UNESCO's International Rostrum of Composers (for Symphony No. 1) – 1955
    Grand Prix National de Musique (for his entire oeuvre) – 1967
    Praemium Imperiale (Japan – for his entire oeuvre) – 1994
    Prix MIDEM Classique de Cannes (for The Shadows of Time) – 1999
    Grand-Croix de la Légion d'honneur – 2004
    Ernst von Siemens Music Prize (for his entire oeuvre) – 2005
    Prix MIDEM Classique de Cannes (for his entire oeuvre) – 2007
    Cardiff University Honorary Fellowship (for his entire oeuvre) – 2008
    Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society – 2008
    Kravis Prize – 2011


     Monaco : Commander of the Order of Saint-Charles (13 May 1998)[44]


Music: Henri Dutilleux - Ainsi la nuit - String Quartet (1976) - Bio data - Links

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