Thursday, December 3, 2015

A whole distant world...

One of the most fruitful relationships for the music of Henri Dutilleux was the one with the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. In 1960 he and Igor Markevich commissioned a work for cello and orchestra from Dutilleux for the Concerts Lamoureux. The work was not finished until 1970 and was premiered by Rostropovich with a different conductor and orchestra: the Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Serge Baudo. The finished piece, titled Tout un monde lointain... is a very unusual cello concerto, much of which is like an extended cadenza. It is dreamlike in atmosphere and organized in five sections, each prefaced by a quote from Baudelaire. Here they are, with the English translations:
I. Énigme: Très libre et flexible
"... Et dans cette nature étrange et symbolique" (from Poème XXVII)
I. Enigma: Very free and flexible
"... And in this strange and symbolic nature"
II. Regard: Extrêmement calme
"... le poison qui découle
De tes yeux, de tes yeux verts,
Lacs où mon âme tremble et se voit à l'envers" (from Le poison)
II. Gaze: Extremely calm
"... the poison that flows
from your eyes, from your green eyes,
lakes in which my soul trembles and sees itself upside down"
III. Houles: Large et ample
"... Tu contiens, mer d'ébène, un éblouissant rêve
De voiles, de rameurs, de flammes et de mâts..." (from La chevelure)
III. Surges: Wide and ample
"... You contain, sea of ebony, a dazzling dream
of sails, of rowers, of flames and of masts..."
IV. Miroirs: Lent et extatique
"... Nos deux cœurs seront deux vastes flambeaux
Qui réfléchiront leurs doubles lumières
Dans nos deux esprits, ces miroirs jumeaux..." (from La mort des amants)
IV. Mirrors: Slow and extatic
"... Our two hearts will be two large torches
that will reflect their double lights
in our two spirits, those twin mirrors..."
V. Hymne: Allegro
"Garde tes songes:
Les sages n'en ont pas d'aussi beaux que les fous !" (from La voix)
V. Hymn: Allegro
"Keep your dreams:
wise men do not have as beautiful ones as fools!"
As is usual with Dutilleux, there is no pause between sections (which is why I call them "sections"  rather than movements proper.

I would love to offer musical examples, but the score, for cello with piano reduction, would take several weeks to deliver and cost, with shipping, over one hundred dollars. So I won't be referring to it today. It would be very nice if there were a sort of online library of copyright works that would allow you to excerpt brief quotes for the purpose of discussion.

Here is a performance of the work, given in the presence of the composer on the occasion of his 90th birthday in 2006 at the National Theater Mannheim, by Henri Demarquette, cello, and Frederic Chaslin, conductor:

There was a great deal of music written in the 20th century purporting to capture, evoke or hint at dreams, but much of it is just tedious and drawn-out. But this is a piece that I think will keep drawing you back. At some point I am going to sit down and analyze it in some detail--not that I think that this will reveal how to copy it! But it will likely be interesting.

As always, the music is powerful, expressive, but focussed and concentrated. He never goes on longer than necessary.

Despite not being called a concerto, this is undoubtedly one of the most successful cello concertos of the 20th century and has been recorded by quite a number of cellists. The version in the Centenary Edition of Dutilleux is that of the performers at the premiere, Rostropovich and the Orchestre de Paris conducted by Serge Baudo.


Christine Lacroix said...

This short interview with Henri Dutilleux popped up on the YouTube page with Tout un monde case you haven't heard it:

Bryan Townsend said...

No, I didn't see that. Thanks.

Mon premier choc musical était probablement le Sacre du Printemps.

Christine Lacroix said...

Mine was probably Switched on Bach, though I'm not sure what is behind 'choc musical'.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, it's one of those slightly opaque French expressions. In English we would probably say "what piece of music was the first to have a real impact on you?"

Christine Lacroix said...

Well I don't know what kind of impact Switched on Bach had on me but I was fascinated by it. I seem to remember there was something controversial about it at the time.

Bryan Townsend said...

I think it was the anachronistic clash of Bach with the newly-invented synthesizer. This was right around the time that the early music movement was really getting started and doing Bach on synthesizer was going in exactly the other direction. The opposite of this would be doing Jimi Hendrix with string quartet, which happened just a few years later.