Henri Dutilleux

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About Henri Dutilleux

Henri Dutilleux was a hard-working French contemporary composer who emphasized quality over quantity, shunned systems of formal organization, and wrote rock-solid music tailored to the needs of specific ensembles. Dutilleux' independence of spirit set him apart from many of his colleagues in France. His concern for instrumental color, spatial relationships among instrumental groups, and heterodox sense of spirituality maintains the French lineage of modernism that stems from the music of Debussy through the work of Messiaen. Dutilleux was deeply inspired by visual art, his orchestral work Timbres, espace, mouvement (1978) being directly inspired by Vincent van Gogh's painting The Starry Night.
Dutilleux was born the grandson of organist and composer Julien Koszul, who was onetime director of the Roubaix Conservatoire, a close friend of Gabriel Fauré, and helped foster the career of Albert Roussel. Dutilleux studied at the Douai Conservatoire until 1933 when he enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire. His third Prix de Rome cantata, L'anneau de Roi, won the Premier Prix in 1938, but the outbreak of war curtailed his award. Dutilleux served as a stretcher-bearer, and later as a singing coach at the French opera. It was during the war that Dutilleux began to stake out his reputation as a composer in works such as the Sonatina for flute & piano (1943) and the song Chanson de la deportée (1945). Ever conscious of the quality of his small work list, Dutilleux renounced all of the pieces that predate the Piano Sonata (1946-1948), written for his new bride, pianist Genevieve Joy. At war's end Dutilleux took a job as a producer for the ORTF (French public radio) that he kept until 1963. In this capacity his unit sponsored "radiophonic" pieces by Pierre Schaeffer, Antonín Artaud, and others. As a composer, Dutilleux elected to stay in the background, working hard and patiently waiting his turn.
That recognition came with his Symphony No. 1 (1951), which led to interest in Dutilleux, particularly among performers who have kept a stream of commissions coming his way since then. Among the artists who have had works written for them by Dutilleux are cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the Juilliard String Quartet, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Swiss conductor Paul Sacher, and soprano Renée Fleming. Many of these works, such as the string quartet Ainsi la nuit (1977), the orchestral pieces The Shadows of Time (1997), and Métaboles (1964), are already regarded as masterworks of Western literature.

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