About this Recording
8.573746 - DUTILLEUX, H.: Symphony No. 1 / M├ętaboles / Les Citations (Ciabaud, Tomczak-Feltrin, Petit, Robine, Lille National Orchestra, J.-C. Casadesus)
English  French 

Henri Dutilleux (1916–2013)
Symphony No. 1 • Métaboles • Les Citations


In an interview with Edward Greenfield in The Guardian in 1985, the great French composer Henri Dutilleux once admitted, ‘I am not happy with my music unless a work takes me over completely. It’s rather like a love story, complete with coup de foudre.’ By studiously avoiding prevailing musical trends and remaining fiercely independent, he forged a distinctive musical language of rare poetry. His refined and scrupulously crafted scores show an awareness of various musical styles, including music from the pre-Baroque era and also jazz in his use of pizzicato bass and syncopation.

Dutilleux was born in Angers in western France on 22 January 1916 and grew up in the north. At the age of 11 he enrolled at the Douai Conservatory to study piano, harmony and counterpoint. In 1933 he entered the Paris Conservatoire where he was a composition pupil of Henri Büsser and won a series of musical prizes, including the Prix de Rome in 1938. At the outbreak of the Second World War he enlisted as a stretcher bearer and served in this capacity until the fall of Paris in August 1940. After demobilisation he undertook a number of jobs—as a pianist, teacher, arranger of light music and singing coach at the Paris Opéra. In 1943 he joined the staff of French Radio, working there until 1963 when he resigned in order to concentrate on composition. He died in Paris on 22 May 2013.

Dutilleux’s uncompromising perfectionism resulted in a modest but finely honed output. He disowned most of his early works and many of his mature scores were later revised. The piano playing of his wife Geneviève Joy, whom he married in 1946, inspired the substantial Piano Sonata (1948). This, his first acknowledged work, marked a turning point in his creative development and in the ensuing decades he produced several highly imaginative orchestral pieces, including Timbres, Espace, Mouvement (La Nuit étoilée) (1976–78) and The Shadows of Time (1997), a meditation on war. Chief among his small canon of chamber music is the string quartet Ainsi la nuit (1976).

Symphony No. 1 (1951) is Dutilleux’s first purely orchestral score. Though not written to commission, it was premiered soon after completion by the Orchestre de l’Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française under Roger Désormière. This broadcast established the composer’s reputation internationally and the work was promptly taken up by various other conductors such as Jean Martinon, Ferenc Fricsay, Ernest Ansermet and Charles Munch. There are four movements, each of which is monothematic and structurally unconventional. Substantial forces are required, among which piccolo, crotales, triangle, xylophone, glockenspiel, celeste and harp add bright, bell-like timbres in contrast to the darker sonorities of cor anglais, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, trombones, tuba, gong, bass drum and tam-tam. This large orchestra is handled deftly with various instruments featured in key solo passages.

The work begins with a Passacaille (‘Passacaglia’), a musical form rarely encountered in symphonic opening movements. Its initial bars introduce a four-bar ground bass, first heard on double basses, played pizzicato. This theme gradually ascends to the orchestra’s treble register and is constantly repeated in counterpoint with a variety of striking, complementary ideas. A strongly rhythmic episode generates a crescendo that builds to a fierce climax, after which the music shimmers and fades away.

The second movement, which follows without a break, is a lively Scherzo. A kaleidoscope of ever-varying hues is unleashed during the course of this fleet-footed moto perpetuo.

The elusive Intermezzo unfolds gently with a finely sustained lyricism. There is evidence here of Dutilleux’s principle of ‘progressive growth’, in which the musical material slowly evolves and coalesces rather than being stated, fully formed at the outset. Thus, the Intermezzo’s theme is presented in several related but non-identical guises rather than in one definitive state.

Following without a break, the Finale begins decisively with a towering, chorale-like statement for massed orchestral forces anchored by bold timpani and percussion strokes. This initial outburst gives way to a sequence of wide-ranging variations on a theme which is closely related to the Intermezzo’s haunting melody and is, in effect, another variant upon it. The final bars are serenely sombre as the music slows down and tapers away: as the composer put it, ‘the work emerges from silence and returns to silence at the end’.¹

Commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, Métaboles (1964) was inspired by the purity and virtuosity of that orchestra’s woodwind section. Chief conductor George Szell directed the work’s premiere in January 1965. The title refers to the biological process of metabolism which relates to the way in which the first movement’s initial theme is gradually and substantially transformed until a new version becomes the theme of the second movement.

There are five movements, played continuously, and each has its own distinctive instrumentation. In the exuberant opening Incantatoire, the woodwind are prominent. The deeply expressive Linéaire is scored for increasingly subdivided strings. Obsessionnel, which highlights the brass and woodwind, features a twelve-note row that is not applied strictly enough to generate all the musical material. Wide leaps and jazzy, offbeat rhythms give the material an ironic flavour similar to the tongue-in-cheek use of a twelve-note row by the English composer William Walton in the finale of his Second Symphony (1960). When asked if the title of this droll central movement was a sly dig at serialist fixations, Dutilleux replied, ‘I didn’t choose it out of malice, but I could have done!’² The languid and delicately scored Torpide emphasises the percussion and muted brass and dispenses with all strings except double basses. In the scherzo-like finale, Flamboyant, the full orchestra is employed. Near the end, there is a break from the metabolic process as the first movement’s principal idea is recalled in its original form and instrumentation: the composer viewed this restatement as ‘an action paralleling the notion of circular time—the movement of the seasons’.

For Aldeburgh 85 was the title of a short, gnomic piece written for oboe, harpsichord and percussion to mark the 75th birthday of Peter Pears, co-founder, with Benjamin Britten, of the Aldeburgh Festival, where Dutilleux was composer-in-residence during the summer of 1985. A quotation of the recitative beginning ‘Now the Great Bear and Pleiades …’ from Act One of Britten’s opera Peter Grimes appears in the movement in homage to Pears, who had created the title role. This allusion is deftly integrated into the rest of the material: the repeated note E, which is a feature of the quotation, is anticipated by the halting, recitative-like oboe phrases with which the work begins.

After its premiere performance at the festival, Dutilleux decided that For Aldeburgh 85 was too insubstantial on its own, so he withdrew it and considered ways of augmenting it. In 1990 he added a double bass to the ensemble and wrote a second movement which he entitled, From Janequin to Jehan Alain. While working on this, the composer was deeply affected by the memory of the French organist and composer Jehan Alain, who had died in active service 50 years before. Accordingly, Dutilleux included a quotation of a short extract from Thème varié for piano by Alain together with a tiny motif attributed to the Renaissance master Clément Janequin, which had itself been cited by Alain in one of his organ pieces. Beginning with an extended, fantasia-like passage for harpsichord, the piece contains some inventive oboe writing, including multiphonics. The final note G is also the goal of the harpsichord’s descending introductory solo and, tellingly, the pivotal note of the Janequin reference. Thus, Dutilleux takes care to assimilate the quotes into the structure of his score.

Since the two movements both cite music by other composers, Dutilleux called his enigmatic diptych Les Citations. In this revised and definitive format, the work was premiered on 19 September 1991 at the Église St- Laurent d’Ornans as part of the Besançon International Festival by soloists Maurice Bourgue (oboe), Huguette Dreyfus (harpsichord), Bernard Cazauran (double bass) and Bernard Balet (percussion).

Paul Conway

¹ Henri Dutilleux, Zodiaque, January (special Dutilleux issue, interview with Dom Angelico Surchamp, quoted in Caroline Potter, Henri Dutilleux: His Life and Works (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016), p.9.

² ‘Progressive Growth: Roger Nichols talks to Henri Dutilleux about his life and music’, The Musical Times, February 1994, p.89.

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