Sunday, December 6, 2015

Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit

Henri Dutilleux, whose music we have been looking at lately, has a distinction that not even Mozart can claim: the majority of his pieces have separate entries in Wikipedia:

Piano Sonata

Tout un monde lointain

Ainsi la nuit

Timbres, espace, mouvement

L'arbe des songes

Sur le même accord


Le temps l'orloge

That was cleverly parsed on my part. The main reason for this is that Dutilleux labored long and hard over each piece, only allowing a few works to be performed and published. In his entire life he wrote only a couple of dozen pieces and none of them very long. But each of them is like a carefully polished jewel worth listening to over and over.

Like Debussy, Ravel and quite a few other 20th century composers, he wrote only one string quartet titled "Ainsi la nuit" ("Thus the night") in seven linked movements or sections. There are never pauses between movements in Dutilleux's work, which is why I tend to call them sections. Here they are as listed in Wikipedia:

  1. Nocturne
  2. Miroir d'espace
  3. Litanies
  4. Litanies II
  5. Constellations
  6. Nocturne II
  7. Temps suspendu
In the Centenary Edition, they show them a bit differently (the Arabic numerals refer to the tracks on the CD and the Roman numerals to the sections in the score:

1. (Introduction) I. Nocturne
2. Parenthèse 1 II. Miroir d'espace
3. Parenthèse 2 III. Litanies
4. Parenthèse 3 IV. Litanies 2
5. Parenthèse 4 V. Constellations
                         VI. Nocturne 2
                         VII. Temps

Sometime I am going to get some Dutilleux scores and study them, at which point I will probably do some more posts. Think of these as just an introduction.

Before beginning to work on his string quartet, Dutilleux studied those of Beethoven and Bartók as well as the Six Bagatelles by Webern. Let's have a listen to those brief pieces first:

And wow, are they ever brief, ranging from 25 seconds in duration to 1:12. All six together total only four minutes in length. Webern's other pieces for string quartet are much longer, the op. 28 is around 8 minutes and the Five Movements, op. 5 is around twelve minutes. Dutilleux's quartet is a lengthy eighteen minutes--by these standards.

Now for Ainsi la nuit. Read the Wikipedia article for some details about the structure. One of the things you will notice is that he uses some of the same furtive ponticello timbres that Webern did in the bagatelles. As it is quite short, I recommend listening a few times. This performance is by the Arditti Quartet and we have the fantastic luck that the clip is accompanied by the score so we can see what is going on.

A few things to notice: the ensemble difficulties in performing this score are formidable. The players spend as much time playing pizzicato and harmonics as they do "normal" notes. The parentheses come between the movements and are four or five measures long. What makes them parentheses? Not sure, that would probably need to be revealed by a real analysis.

UPDATE: I had forgotten, but Tom Service, in his year-long survey of contemporary composers, did rather a nice article on Henri Dutilleux.

No comments: