Classic Cat

Biography of

Henri Dutilleux

22 jan 1916 (Angers) -
Buy sheetmusic from Dutilleux at SheetMusicPlus

Henri Dutilleux (born 22 January 1916 in Angers, Maine-et-Loire) is one of the most important French composers of the second half of the 20th century, producing work in the tradition of Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, and Albert Roussel, but in a style distinctly his own. Although his output is relatively small, its quality and originality have won international acclaim.



As a young man, Dutilleux studied harmony, counterpoint and piano with Victor Gallois at the Douai Conservatory before leaving for Paris. There from 1933 to 1938 he attended the classes of Jean and Noël Gallon (harmony and counterpoint), Henri Büsser (composition) and Maurice Emmanuel (history of music) at the Paris Conservatoire.

Dutilleux won the Prix de Rome in 1938 for his cantata L'anneau du roi but did not complete the 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 came back to Paris in 1940 where he worked as a pianist, arranger and music teacher and in 1942 conducted the choir of the Paris Opera.

Dutilleux worked as Head of Music Production for French Radio 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 Paris Conservatoire in 1970 and was composer in residence at Tanglewood in 1995 and 1998. His students include French composers Gérard Grisey and Francis Bayer, Canadian composers Alain Gagnon and Jacques Hétu, British composers Kenneth Hesketh and Andrew McBirnie, and 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.

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 problematic. While he has always paid attention to the developments of contemporary music and has incorporated some serialist techniques into his own compositions[1], he has 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")[2]. As an independent composer, Dutilleux has always refused to be associated with any school.[3]. 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 echoes of jazz as can be heard in the double bass introduction to his First Symphony and his frequent use of syncopated rhythms.

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[4]; 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.[5] 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). "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..."[6]

Dutilleux's music has often been influenced by art and literature, such as the works of Vincent van Gogh[7], Charles Baudelaire[8], and Marcel Proust[9]. It also shows a concern for the concepts of time and memory, both in its use of quotations (notably from Bartók, 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 has allowed only a small number of his works to be published, and what he does publish he often revises and adjusts many times subsequently.


Dutilleux numbered as Op. 1 his Piano Sonata (1946–1948), written for pianist Geneviève Joy whom he had married in 1946. He has 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.[10]

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 the never goes back on itself"), and finally slowly fades out (4th—a theme and variations)[11].

In 1953, Dutilleux wrote the music for the ballet Le loup.

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 [12].

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[13]. 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[14]. Métaboles is now one of his most often performed works.[15]

In the mid-sixties, 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 20th century[16][17] and is considered one of the composer's major achievements[18]. In five movements, Tout un monde lointain is a nocturnal, mysterious work with a delicate orchestration and an eerily beautiful, yet highly virtuosic solo part. While most of the concerto is introspective and meditative, it also has occasional outbursts of violence and a frantic build-up to the ambiguous, suspended finale.

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. He also wrote the string quartet Ainsi la Nuit (1976). Each of its movements highlights various special effects (pizzicato, glissandi, harmonics, extreme registers, contrasting dynamics…) resulting in a difficult but fascinating work.

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.

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.

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, Rilke, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Van Gogh. This work has received a very enthusiastic reception and has been programmed several times since its première[19].

His latest work is another song-cycle entitled Le temps l'horloge[20] , 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[21]. The complete work was unveiled on May 7, 2009 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris[22][23] where the 16-minutes song-cycle was immediately encored.

Most recently, Dutilleux has added a third movement to his chamber work Les Citations[24]. The expanded version was premiered at the Festival d’Auvers-sur-Oise on 24th June 2010.

As for future projects, Dutilleux has expressed the wish to write more chamber music, notably a second string quartet,[25] a genre he feels he has neglected.[26]

Links with painters

Henri Dutilleux is the great-grandson of painter Constant Dutilleux and of composer Julien Koszul. He also had a long friendship with Maurice Boitel, whose exhibitions he regularly visited.




  • Cello Concerto Tout un monde lointain (1970)
  • Violin Concerto L'arbre des songes (1985)
  • Nocturne for violin and orchestra Sur le même accord (2002)


  • String Quartet Ainsi la nuit (1976)
  • Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher for solo cello (1976–1982)
  • Les citations for oboe, harpsichord, double bass and percussion (1985/1991/2010)


  • Piano Sonata (1948)
  • Tous les chemins (1961)
  • Bergerie (1963)
  • Résonances (1965)
  • Figures de résonances (1970)
  • 3 Préludes (1973–1988):
    • D'ombre et de silence (1973)
    • Sur un même accord (1977)
    • Le jeu des contraires (1988)


  • Deux sonnets de Jean Cassou, for baritone and piano (1954)
  • San Francisco Night, for voice and piano (1963)
  • Hommage à Nadia Boulanger, for soprano, 3 violas, clarinet, percussion and zither (1967)
  • The Shadows of Time, for 3 children voices and orchestra (1997)
  • 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 has disowned most of these pieces, written before his Piano Sonata. Some of them are nonetheless played and recorded regularly, in particular the Flute Sonatina and the Oboe Sonata


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


  • Barque d'or for soprano and piano (1937)
  • Cantata L'anneau du roi (1938)
  • Quatre mélodies, for voice and piano (1943)
  • La geôle, for voice and orchestra (1944)


  • Au gré des ondes (1946)

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
  • Ernst Von Siemens Musikpreis (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


  1. ^ "'Obsessionnel', the third movement of Métaboles, uses a note row. . . ." (Potter 2001), also quoted at Ensemble Sospeso website; Nichols and Dutilleux 1994, 87.
  2. ^ Nichols and Dutilleux 1994, 87.
  3. ^ "Although he belongs to no particular school, Dutilleux is clearly part of a significant lineage of French composers" (May 2007)
  4. ^ "This use of pivot chords (or pivot notes) is a constant of Dutilleux's mature style, and provides a point of reference for the listener within an essentially atonal context" (Potter 2007, 53).
  5. ^ Potter 2001, also quoted on Ensemble Sospeso website (5th paragraph). BBC Philharmonic website, “Latest Concerts from the Manchester Student Music Network” Saturday 25 November (year not given: 2006?, 2000?, 1995?, 1989? . . .) (accessed 19 June 2008). Swart ?2007.
  6. ^ Jeffries 2005. "Dutilleux pousse plus avant encore que Bartók les symétries de tout type, rétrogrades (par exemple au début du quatuor Ainsi la nuit, 1974-1976) ou en miroir" (Amblard 2007).
  7. ^ "A great lover of painting, Dutilleux claimed to have van Gogh's La nuit etoilee always in mind when writing Timbres, espace, mouvement, and later added the title of the painting as a subtitle to his work" (Potter 2001)
  8. ^ "Baudelaire's poetry inspired the cello concerto Tout un monde lointain...; all five movements feature a Baudelaire epigraph at the head of the score" (Potter 2001).
  9. ^ "It is especially the ideas of time and memory, more specifically involuntary memory that the internationally acclaimed French composer Henri Dutilleux finds attractive. Dutilleux often refers to Proust's influence on his music. Furthermore, they both believe in direct experience and communication as the essential function of the work of art" (Swart and Spies 2007).
  10. ^ The Living Composers Project: "Henri Dutilleux" (accessed 19 June 2008), paragraph 2.
  11. ^ Claude Glayman, Mystère et Mémoire des Sons quoted in Simon Marin's liner notes (Erato CD 0630-14068-2)
  12. ^ s
  13. ^ "(Szell) liked it because, all in all, it is a concerto for orchestra." - Claude Glayman, Mystère et mémoire des sons quoted in Simon Marin's liner notes (Erato CD 0630-14068-2)
  14. ^ CIRM - Centre National de Création Musicale, 2006 "Les Métaboles furent commandées en 1959 par le chef George Szell à Henri Dutilleux à l'occasion du quarantième anniversaire de l'Orchestre de Cleveland, qui en assura la création le 14 janvier 1965 sous la direction du commanditaire. L'œuvre connut rapidement la célébrité et fut reprise dans les grandes villes nord-américaines puis en France."
  15. ^ Wasselin 2007
  16. ^ "The great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich commissioned Dutilleux to write Tout un monde lointain, now an important work in the cello repertoire." ( London Symphony Orchestra - 2009)
  17. ^ "Tout un monde lointain... un des plus beaux concertos pour violoncelle de la seconde moitié du XXe siècle qui... s'est trouvé hissé au premier rang, celui des concertos de Chostakovitch, Penderecki, Britten..." (Peters 2007).
  18. ^ "In the meantime other cellists had Dutilleux’s concerto in their repertoire and several other recordings are now available. Tout un monde lointain… is a splendid work and probably one of the composer’s finest achievements"(Culot 2008).
  19. ^ "Correspondances... Je suis heureux que cette œuvre soit beaucoup jouée en ce moment, vingt fois dans le monde!" (Costantino 2006).
  20. ^ May 2007.
  21. ^ Eichler 2007
  22. ^ 2009
  23. ^ Monde 2009
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Nor is the cycle meant as a swan song—the composer has expressed interest in returning to the string quartet genre" (May 2007).
  26. ^ "... je voudrais combler les lacunes de mon œuvre ; ce que je n’ai pas fait ou trop peu. Par exemple, j’ai peu d’oeuvres de musique de chambre" (Costantino 2006).


  • Amblard, Jacques. 2007. "Parcours de l'oeuvre de Henri Dutilleux (1916)". BRAHMS: Base de documentation sur la musique contemporaine. Paris: Ircam—Centre Pompidou (2 October).
  • Costantino, Cédric. 2006. "Applaudir: Entretien avec Henri Dutilleux". (11 May). (Accessed 19 June 2008)
  • Culot, Hubert. 2008. "CD Review Dutilleux - Caplet Works for cello" MusicWeb International (September).
  • Dutilleux, Henri, and Claude Glayman. 1993. Henri Dutilleux, Mystère et Mémoire des Sons: Entretiens avec Claude Glayman. Paris: Belfond. ISBN 2714429718. English edition, as Henri Dutilleux: Music—Mystery and Memory: Conversations with Claude Glayman, translated by Roger Nichols. Aldershot (Hants) and Burlington (VT): Ashgate, 2003. ISBN 0754608999.
  • Eichler, Jeremy. 2007. "Henri Dutilleux's Search for Lost Time (and the Clock)". The Boston Globe (30 November).
  • Jeffries, Stuart. 2005. "Contentious, moi?" The Guardian (28 April 2005).
  • May, Thomas. 2007. "Henri Dutilleux: 'Le Temps l’Horloge,' for Soprano and Orchestra" [program notes]. Boston: Boston Symphony Orchestra (November 29).
  • Nichols, Roger, and Henri Dutilleux. 1994. "Progressive Growth: Roger Nichols Talks to Henri Dutilleux about His Life and Music". The Musical Times 135, no. 1812 (February): 87–90.
  • Peters, Jean-François. 2007. "Henri Dutilleux, Tout un monde lointain... , concerto pour violoncelle en présence du compositeur". (10 January 2007).
  • Potter, Caroline. 2001. "Dutilleux, Henri". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, 7:770–77. London: Macmillan.
  • Potter, Caroline. 1997. Henri Dutilleux: His Life and Works. Aldershot (UK) and Brookfield (Vermont, USA): Ashgate Publishing Company. ISBN 1859283306.
  • Potter, Caroline. 2006. "Dutilleux at 90". Musical Times 147, no.1894 (Spring): 51–58.
  • Rae, Caroline. 2000. "Henri Dutilleux and Maurice Ohana: Victims of an Exclusion Zone?" Tempo, new series, 212 (April): 22–30.
  • Swart, Bernarda. [2007]. "Proust's memory concept in Dutilleux's Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1947)" Brigham Young University Hawaii: Fine Arts website (accessed 19 June 2008).
  • Swart, Bernarda, and Bertha Spies. 2007. "Om te onthou: Marcel Proust en Henri Dutilleux". Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe 47, no. 2:243–58. Abstract in English
  • Wasselin, Christian. 2007. "Portrait: L’humble fierté d’Henri Dutilleux". (July).

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Henri Dutilleux. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
Buy sheetmusic from Dutilleux at SheetMusicPlus

Our dream: to make the world's treasury of classical music accessible for everyone. See the about page on how we see the future.
Help us with donations or by making music available!

Contact     Privacy policy    Looking for classical mp3 downloads? We index the free-to-download classical mp3s on the internet.
©2023 Classic Cat - the classical music directory
Sheet Music Plus Featured Sale