Remembering Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013)

Last week, the world learned of Henri Dutilleux’s passing. Flutist know his Sonatine for flute and piano (1943) as one of the great French concert pieces of the 20th century, but Dutilleux notoriously did not share our overwhelming love for his composition. In an interview with author Claude Glayman in 1977, he had this to say regarding the Sonatine:

I had written… some pieces commissioned by Claude Delvincourt, then the director of the Conservatorie. He had a double aim: to make young composers explore instrumental technique (you can’t write any old thing for young players) and, at the same time, to force instrumental students to work on new scores, which Delvincourt wanted to be full of traps and technical difficulties. This is how I came to write, one after the other, pieces for bassoon, flute, oboe, and trombone; the flute piece is the Sonatine for flute and piano, which has been recorded many times abroad, although I have never wanted it to be recorded in France because it doesn’t yet sound really like my music. But I haven’t put any embargo on that.*

Regardless of Dutilleux’s retrospective feelings, the Sonatine has entered the canon of great compositions for the flute. The modally-colored yet mostly tonal harmonic language may not reach the maturity of his later works, but the virtuosic technical demands and sweeping melodies have legitimized the piece as part of the standard repertoire.

Enjoy my favorite recording of this piece: Emmanuel Pahud and Eric Le Sage.

*Claude Glayman. Henri Dutilleux: Music-Mystery and Memory, trans. Roger Nichols. (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2003), 21.

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