Henri Dutilleux came to be a key figure in European music, undergoing a lengthy search for his own style and avoiding the temptation of becoming too associated with any of the contemporary music styles that surrounded him. He felt and rejected the influence of “Debussy’s temptations”, dodecaphonic technique and avant-garde strivings. Not wishing to submit himself to existent artistic canons, Dutilleux saw the meaning of art in that each and every time you have to find the idea of the musical composition in a place where there is a combination of “curiosity about everything that is rare, and the tendency to induce a strictly defined plan using one’s own ideas.”
The Cello Concerto Tout un monde lointain is one of several works dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich. The idea of commissioning a concerto from Dutilleux came from the cellist Igor Markevitch, who was the first to perform Dutilleux’s Symphony No 1 in the USSR. The concerto was composed between 1967 and 1970, and in 1970 it was performed at the Aix-en-Provence Festival by Rostropovich and the Orchestre de Paris under the baton of Serge Baudo. The part of the cello was edited by Rostropovich and published with his amendments. The concerto has five movements, each of which has a quotation from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal. But, according to Dutilleux, “the composition cannot be thought of as musical illustrations” – Baudelaire’s verse provides only the initial impulse for the composer’s idea. The music is filled with impressionistic sounds, the elusive and diffuse images follow one after another, immersing the audience in an unusually evil atmosphere.
The violin concerto Arbre des Songes (1983-1985), like other symphonic works by Dutilleux, is a source of knowledge confirmed in sounds; it is not by chance that researchers have found links between Dutilleux’ musical thoughts and the poetry of Marcel Proust and his imagination of memory as a reservoir of recollections from the past and presentiments of the future. The four movements is the cycle are connected by three interludes. The composer thus attains continuation in the flow of musical imagery in the concerto – as he said, pauses between the movements destroy “the enchanting power of the music”.
In his sixth opera Lohengrin (1845-1848) Wagner rejected an expansive overture for the first time, composing instead a brief introduction. The music depicts the descent of the Holy Grail to Earth: “The delighted gaze, executed through a thirst for elevated and unworldly love initially appears as if it is a clear blue sky covered with barely perceptible and yet, at the same time, a riveting glance of magical power and enchanting images. In the constantly tender and subtle lines there is depicted – with increasing clarity – an assembly of angels undertaking heavenly tasks, accompanying the Holy Ghost and silently descending from the heavenly heights to earth...” (from the composer’s annotation for a concert in 1853). The main theme is performed by the violins in a very high register, while the chorus of flutes and oboes veils it with a subtle cobweb of glimmering sound. The melody develops in one breath and seems as if it cannot come to an end: each cadenza becomes a repetition of itself. Gradually he sound takes on more massif characteristics, and following the culmination we once again hear the sparkling sound of the violins: having come to ground for a moment, the Grail again takes off to be hidden in the distant Heavens.