In 1933, Henri Dutilleux moved to Paris and began composition studies at the Conservatoire with Henri Büsser. Although he won the Prix de Rome in 1938, the impending war effectively curtailed his residency in Italy. Back in France, he took on several music jobs during the German occupation, including teaching harmony, acting as chorus master for the Paris Opera, and arranging music for nightclubs. In 1943, he joined Radio-France, and rose to the position of Director of Music Productions, a job he held for the next 20 years. Dutilleux’s moderately sized output is due in part to his exacting and self-critical nature, as well as his double duty as a full-time employee of Radio-France, which limited the hours he could devote to composition. His compositions from this period are nonetheless impressive, and include his two symphonies, premiered in 1951 by Roger Désormière and in 1959 by Charles Münch respectively, a ballet, his most frequently performed work, Les Métaboles, and a cello concerto commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovitch that has proved an unflagging success. After receiving France’s Grand Prix national de la musique in recognition of his life’s work, Dutilleux was appointed composition professor at the Conservatoire in 1970.
The sparseness of Dutilleux’s oeuvre is perhaps one of the reasons for his relative neglect by critics: another is surely his status as a “non-radical” composer. With music rooted in large-scale forms, tonal and modal languages, and devoid of serial techniques, Dutilleux stands in stark contrast to a somewhat younger Pierre Boulez. Although he admires dodecaphonic writing, Dutilleux once said that he is, “at heart, not a serial composer.” However, his exquisite craftsmanship and his keen ear for orchestral sonority secure his position as one of France’s leading twentieth-century composers.
© Direction générale des relations culturelles, scientifiques et techniques du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères
[Direction générale des relations culturelles, scientifiques et techniques du ministère des Affaires étrangères]