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Tout un monde lointain

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Henri Dutilleux
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra Leonard Slatkin, conductor/Nurit Bar-Josef, violin, Daniel Foster, viola, David Hardy, cello Jan. 27 - 29, 2005
© Richard Freed

This work was composed for Mstislav Rostropovich, who gave the premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival on July 25, 1970, with the Orchestre de Paris conducted by Serge Baudo. All of the National Symphony Orchestra's performances prior to the present ones were given by Mr. Rostropovich during his tenure as the orchestra's music director, and all were conducted by Hugh Wolff: on April 10-12, 1986, January 29-February 3, 1987, and at Carnegie Hall February 7, 1987.

In addition to the solo cello, the score calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, bongs, tom tom, chime, crash cymbal, medium and small suspended cymbals, triangle, xylophone, glockenspiel, low and medium gongs, low and medium tam tams, marimba, celesta, harp, and strings. Duration, 26 minutes.

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The music of Henri Dutilleux figured prominently in concerts of the National Symphony Orchestra during Mstislav Rostropovich's tenure as music director (1977-1994). Timbres, espace, movement , commissioned by him, was given its premiere in this hall in 1978. Métaboles, perhaps Dutilleux's best-known orchestral work, was performed in honor of the composer's seventieth birthday, together with the present work, in 1986. While “Tout un monde lointain . . . ” is one of the numerous concerted works composed for and dedicated to Mr. Rostropovich in the second half of the last century, the original suggestion in this case did not come from him, but from another distinguished Russian-born musician, the conductor and composer Igor Markevitch, who approached Dutilleux around 1960 with the idea of his writing a cello concerto. It was at Rostropovich's urging, however, that Dutilleux got round to the project, and the work was recorded by Rostropovich and Serge Baudo shortly after they gave the premiere in July 1970. The solo part was edited by Rostropovich and published with his fingerings, and his championing of the work eventually led to its being taken up by other cellists.

As Vincent van Gogh's famous painting La Nuit étoilée provided a point of departure for Dutilleux's later Timbres, espace, movement , the inspiration for the present work came from literature: specifically Charles Baudelaire's cycle of poems given the collective title Fleurs du mal. The title Dutilleux chose, “Tout un monde lointain . . . ” (“A Whole World Distant”), comes from the poem “La Chevelure.” The line is printed in full on the title page of the score:

“Tout un monde lointain, absent, Presque défunt”

“A whole world distant, absent, all but dead”

While it might be said that the impact of Baudelaire is somewhat more directly felt in this music than that of Vincent van Gogh is in Timbres, espace, movement, and while Dutilleux in this case even provides descriptive movement headings in which he quotes lines from the poems, what we have here is not “program music” in any conventional sense. Rather than attempt to convey Baudelaire's word-images in music, the composer gives us, in purely musical terms, the personal response evoked by the respective verses.

Dutilleux quite specifically did not label this work a concerto—the word does not appear in the score at all—but it is hardly amiss to refer to it as one. There are five movements. In addition to the inscriptions from Baudelaire, Dutilleux has provided his own brief descriptive comments. The first movement is called E NIGME (“Enigma”), and carries this quotation from Poème XXVII:

“ . . . Et dans cette nature étrange et symbolique . . . ”

(“ . . . And in this strange and symbolic nature . . .”)

The tempo marking is Très libre. Dutilleux writes:

A cadenza-like introduction by the soloist punctuated by chords—or “chord-themes” that serve as transition-motif—precedes a movement related to a scherzo. The orchestra is treated in a sectionalized, pointilliste fashion.

The second movement, R EGARD (“Take notice”), is marked Extrêmement calme ; the superscription, from “Le poison,” reads:

“ . . . le poison qui découle

De les yeux, de les yeux verts,

Lacs où mon âme tremble et se voit à l'envers . . .

(“ . . . the poison that flows

From your eyes, from your green eyes,

Lakes in which my soul trembles and sees itself upside-down . . . ”)

First slow movement. A song, modal in character. The cello part is consistently in the high register. Orchestra: strings, with a few woodwind and timpani.

The middle movement is called H OULES (“Surges”). The superscription comes from the same poem as the title of the entire work:

“ . . . Tu contiens, mer d'ébène, un éblouissant rêve

De voiles, de rameurs, de flames et de mats . . . ”

(“ . . . You contain, sea of ebony, a dazzling dream

Of sails, of rowers, of flames and masts . . . ”)

Large et ample. The principal motif of this central section is foreshadowed at the end of the cadenza in Enigme. Orchestra: basically woodwinds, brass and strings.

For the fourth section, M IROIRS (“Mirrors”), the tempo is Lent et extatique and the superscription is from “La Mort des amants” (“The Death of the Lovers”):

“. . . Nos deux coeurs seront deux vastes flambeaux

Qui réfléchiront leurs doubles lumières

Dans nos deux esprits, ces miroirs jumeaux.”

(“ . . . Our two hearts will be huge torches

That reflect their double lights

In our two spirits, these twin mirrors.”)

Second slow movement. A phrase, modal in essence, often interrupted by silences or by slow pulsations from percussion. “Mirror” chords stated by the harp. As the soloist plays, similar “mirrors,” in the form of fragments of his phrase, are superimposed on his part by the violins in their high register. At length the Enigme motif reappears in the counterpoint. Orchestra basically the brass, muted and pianissimo , with a few strings, percussion (both keyboard and metallic) and harp.

The concluding movement, H YMNE , is marked Allegro and prefaced by these lines from “La Voix” :

“ . . . Garde les songes:

Les sages n'en pas d'aussi beaux que les fous!”

(“ . . . Hold on to your dreams:

Those of wise men are never as beautiful as those of fools!”)

A relatively brief epilogue in which materials from the preceding movements are combined. The principal idea of Enigme eventually dominates. The whole orchestra is used, but, as with the opening, the final notes are entrusted to the soloist.