Henri Dutilleux, 1916-2013

By Brian McCreath

Henri Dutilleux with Leon Kirchner
Henri Dutilleux (right) with composer Leon Kirchner at Symphony Hall in Boston in 1997
(photo by Miro Vintoniv, courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra)

French composer Henri Dutilleux has died at the age of 97. Born on Jan. 22, 1916, in Angers, France, Dutilleux's music became a regular presence over the years at Symphony Hall in performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

His Symphony No. 1 was performed by the BSO and conductor Charles Munch in 1954, and his Symphony No. 2, Les Double, was commissioned by the orchestra for its 75th anniversary. More recently the BSO co-commissioned his song cycle Le Temps l’Horloge, which was given its American premiere by soprano Renée Fleming with the BSO under James Levine in 2007.

Tom Service of The Guardian has written that Dutilleux's Cello Concerto, Tout un monde lointain, written for Mstislav Rostropovich in 1970, is "music of sumptuous but rigorous splendour, music whose sheer attractiveness belies the refinement of Dutilleux's harmonic and structural imagination, and which seduces you into a faraway world of heightened feeling. I defy you not to be won over by this music."

Upon the passing of Henri Dutilleux, Tony Fogg, Artistic Administrator for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, said,

Henri Dutilleux will be remembered not only for the singularity of his musical language - profoundly beautiful, perfect in discourse, luminous in sonority - but also, by those of us lucky enough to know him, for his personal grace, generosity, and purity of spirit. Few composers express the level of gratitude to his or her interpreters which Dutilleux showed to the artists who performed his works, and to those who helped bring about those performances.

In the context of his long relationship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Munch and Ozawa were his gods. Yet just as important in his eyes, were the young composers he befriended during his visits to Tanglewood - friendships he maintained for years afterwards. We are lucky to have enjoyed a unique relationship with this great, great figure.

To hear Dutilleux's Métaboles with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conductor Alan Gilbert in concert, click on "Listen" above.


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