Tant que durera l’automne”: Text-music relationships in Correspondances by Henri Dutilleux

Troy Ducharme


The reputation of French composer Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) rests primarily on his orchestral works, produced regularly throughout his mature career. By contrast, his output of vocal works reveals an interesting gap: having won the Prix de Rome in 1938 for his student cantata, L’anneau du Roi and composing small vocal works at intervals until approximately 1967, he would produce no more vocal music from this time until 1997. After a gap of 30 years, his last decade-and-a-half of compositional activity contained a disproportionate amount of vocal writing, beginning modestly with the incorporation of children’s voices in the primarily orchestral work, The Shadows of Time (1997), and continuing with two substantial works for soprano and orchestra: Correspondances (2003) and Le temps l’horloge (2007-2009).
This study looks at elements of voice-leading, harmony, motive and musical structure in Correspondances, with specific concern for how these inform and are informed by the texts. For example, the first movement begins with a chord built out of a cycle of perfect fifths/fourths and comprising a 1#-diatonic collection, perhaps representing the gong of the title. The vocal line is
initially limited to the pitches D, E and F#, present in the double bass harmonics of the first chord. But as the text suggests the possibility of a sound which is not measurable by the ear, so the melodic line stretches, at the word ‘mesurable,’ to G#, transcending the initial harmonic context and establishing a new one: the whole-tone collection implied by the first four vocal pitch-classes will control the remainder of the vocal line in this movement and determine many elements of the harmonic progression, including extensions and transpositions of the initial interval-cycle. Similar processes will be explored in the other movements, as well as textual and musical connections among movements, with the goal of exposing elements of style and technique in the late works of Dutilleux and musical meanings within this important late work.

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