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Dutilleux - Timbres, Espace, Mouvement ou La nuit étoilée

by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 4 flutes, 4 oboes, 4 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, strings (12 celli, 10 double basses).  

Duration: 20 minutes in three sections.


THE COMPOSER – HENRI DUTILLEUX (1916-2013) – Dutilleux passed away in May of 2013 after a career once referred to by Paul Griffiths as “proudly solitary.” Dutilleux left his position as head of music production at Radio France in 1963 to devote himself fully to composition and the string of awards he received throughout his long life (including the inaugural Kravis Prize as late as 2011) confirmed him as a critical contributor to his personal century and beyond.  


THE HISTORY – Timbres, Espace, Mouvement was inspired by Van Gogh’s celebrated painting The Starry Night. As great-grandson to a painter who counted Delacroix among his contemporaries, Dutilleux was often drawn to the spatial fascinations of visual art. He chose to portray his impressions of Van Gogh’s image by plotting a highly specific staging for the orchestra. The unique configuration (featuring a semi-circle of celli right in front of the podium) allows the sounds to travel through space and time in a physical way that makes the music extremely effective in live performance. The instrumentation, though robust, lacks upper strings and depends heavily on the winds to depict whirling motions of the painting and create a sonic divide between themselves and the celli/double bass grouping. Dutilleux claimed to be ever mindful of Van Gogh’s own spiritual questions while he worked on Timbres and the extremes of instrumental register the composer exploited were meant to represent the vertical abyss that separates Earth and the heavens. Timbres, Espace, Mouvement was commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich and the National Symphony in Washington D.C., who premiered it in 1978. A central interlude for the cello section was added between the Nebuleuse and Constellation movements in 1990.  


THE WORLD – Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler became the first climbers to summit Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1978. Also in 1978, Charlie Chaplin’s remains were stolen from a Swiss cemetery and the Camp David Accords were signed in the U.S.


THE CONNECTION – These are the first Utah Symphony performances of Timbres, Espace, Mouvement ou La nuit étoilée.