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Musique de Chambre

Musique de Chambre


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Henri DUTILLEUX: chamber music

The chamber music works performed here cover the whole of Henri Dutilleux’s career. They precede it even, if we take into account that the earliest of them were rejected by the composer himself as not yet being “his” music. Indeed, Dutilleux considered his Sonata for piano (1948) to be his opus 1. Nonetheless, it has to be said that though he thought it regrettable, these pieces composed while he was still relatively young have continued to be played whilst the Sonatina for flute was even to become his most recorded work.

It is highly probable that Dutilleux’s maturity as a composer was delayed as a result of the War, since several key 20th century composers were banned at the time. He also had to find his own voice: I had to disentangle myself from certain influences. In my earlier works there’s also an influence of Fauré – his music made a great impression on me when I was young. He’d also been a fellow student at the Ecole Niedermeyer with my grandfather, Julien Koszul. As well as Fauré, one observes the influence notably of Ravel, though also of Poulenc, noticeable in the pieces for flute and oboe, an influence Dutilleux had some difficulty breaking away from and that he deplored as being an easy solution, particularly in the finale of the oboe sonata. But let us return to these works that were initially intended to serve as test pieces for the Paris Conservatoire examinations:


Sarabande et cortège for bassoon and piano (1942), Sonatina for flute and piano (1943), Sonata for oboe and piano (1947), and Choral, cadence et fugato for trombone and piano (1950).


I had written some pieces commissioned by Claude Delvincourt, then Director of the Conservatoire. He had a double aim: to force young composers to explore instrumental technique (because one cannot write just anything for young players) and, at the same time, to oblige the students to work on new scores, which Delvincourt wanted to be full of pitfalls and technical difficulties. This is how I came to write, in succession, pieces for bassoon, flute, oboe, and trombone. These included a Sonatina for flute and piano, which has been recorded in the United States at least four or five times and in other countries too, although I have never wanted it to be recorded in France because it doesn’t yet really sound like my music. But I don’t dare insist on this point.

History’s verdict on the matter has been less severe than that of the composer, and since we cannot reject music of such great quality, we now see it as proof not of music which is not really his, but of an “early style” existing both in its own right and as a staging-post on the road to maturity.

Essentially, however, Dutilleux’s maturity was to reveal itself in orchestral works. After 1975, he wrote no more pieces for piano and only three chamber works: the string quartet Ainsi la nuit (1971-1977), the Trois Strophes (1976-1982) and Les Citations (1990-2010). All three works were extensively and meticulously re-worked before arriving at their definitive version.


Trois Strophes sur le nom de SACHER (Three Stanzas on the name Sacher) for solo cello (1976-1982)


For Paul Sacher’s 70th birthday, celebrated on 2nd May 1976 at the Zurich Tonhalle, Mstislav Rostropovitch asked 12 composers to each write a homage for solo cello on the letters making up the name SACHER (eS A C H E Ré [in a mixture of German and French, E, A, C, B, E, D in English]). So it was that Conrad Beck, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Benjamin Britten, Henri Dutilleux, Wolfgang Fortner, Alberto Ginastera, Cristobal Halffter, Hans Werner Henze, Heinz Holliger, Klaus Huber and Witold Lutoslawski all produced pieces – with Pierre Boulez writing a piece for one solo and 6 accompanying cellos that subsequently became “Messagesquisse”.

Henri Dutilleux later extended his 1976 “homage”, adding two extra pieces. The title adopted for this short suite pertains to the idea of recurrence, or “rhymes” with the link between each stanza being established by playing the six letters of the name SACHER in notes and the use of “mirror” writing. The two lower strings of the instrument are tuned down: the G becomes F♯ and the C becomes B.

At the end of the 1st stanza comes a brief quotation from Béla Bartók’s “Music for strings, percussion and celesta” that Paul Sacher commissioned and conducted for the first time in Basle in January 1937.

The Three Stanzas on the name of SACHER were performed in their final form by their dedicatee in Basle on 28th April 1982.


Les Citations, diptych for oboe, harpsichord, double bass and percussion (1990-2010)


This work, performed here in its final version, was the fruit of much reworking:

In June 1985, I was invited to the Aldeburgh Festival in England as “composer in residence”. This is the festival founded by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in Aldeburgh, a tiny seaside town in Suffolk that could well be the natural setting for Peter Grimes. Some of my orchestral works were performed there, notably under the direction of Simon Rattle whom I greatly admire, as well as some chamber music. A piece that it was suggested I write in homage to Peter Pears on the occasion of his 75th birthday was premiered. This was a year before his death.

I wrote this piece for three instruments: oboe, harpsichord and percussion and I wanted to experiment with certain possibilities afforded by the oboe, for example multiphonic sounds and various other possibilities. I therefore met several times with Maurice Bourgue, that wonderful artist I had sometimes reproached for having recorded my Sonata for Oboe without my permission: you are familiar with my reservations concerning this examination test piece… Maurice Bourgue had, incidentally, played it wonderfully well. For Aldeburgh 85, I gave it a sequel, since that short page could not stand alone. The work now has the form of a diptych, but for the second section, I thought I would add a double bass to the other three instruments – oboe, harpsichord and percussion – so as to give a firmer foundation and greater density to this little ensemble that was lacking in true basses.

As I was working on it in June 1990, I was haunted by the memory of Jehan Alain whom I have already mentioned and who exactly fifty years earlier had died heroically on a voluntary reconnaissance mission during the defence of Saumur on 20th June 1940. So in the second section of the diptych I placed a quotation from a “variation on a theme” by Jehan Alain which blends with a motif attributed to Janequin [“L’espoir que j’ay d’acquerir vostre grace – The hope I have of attaining your grace”], and used by Alain in an organ work. In the first section I had already reproduced a brief fragment from Britten’s Peter Grimes in homage to the principal interpreter of his work, Peter Pears. From that moment on, the title Les Citations [Quotations] seemed an obvious choice.

Henri Dutilleux revised the work in 2010, wishing to pay homage to his wife, the pianist Geneviève Joy, who had recently died. He therefore integrated two further quotations: La plainte du loup (The Wolf’s Complaint), an extract from his ballet music Le Loup (The Wolf) (1953), that she had particularly admired: My wife, Geneviève, liked it a lot. She thought I was wrong not to authorise the Wolf music to be played in isolation from the ballet. This particular theme, given to the bassoon in the ballet, is here given to the double bass. It appears twice, in the last moments of the first part of the diptych and at the end of the harpsichord solo that opens the second part. This harpsichord solo is called Interlude in the new version, with the second part now beginning with the entry of the percussion.

The diptych, which appeared in its final version twenty-five years after it was begun, concludes Henri Dutilleux’s chamber works. He is a composer whose image during rehearsals lives on, inseparable from his music: a courteous, elegant man, reserved and benevolent yet punctilious, exigent and with a passion undimmed by age.


Mathieu DUPOUY

Translation: Elizabeth GUILL


(All the quotations in italics are from texts written by Henri Dutilleux or from published interviews. The text on Trois Strophes, is from the Preface published by Leduc)