Henri Dutilleux did not consider himself to belong to a particular compositional movement, nor did he join a group of composers. He saw himself as a “colour composer”, whereby he owed much of his discovery of harmonic shades to Frédéric Chopin and – with regard to the art of instrumentation – much to Hector Berlioz. However, the most important role model throughout his life was Claude Debussy.
Henri Dutilleux was born in Angers on 22 January 1916 to an artistic family: his great-grandfather, a painter and lithographer, was a close friend of Eugène Delacroix and Camille Corot. His grandfather, the organist Julien Koszul – himself a friend of Gabriel Fauré – was director of the conservatory in Roubaix for a long time. Among his best-known pupils was Albert Roussel, whose works had a strong influence on Henri Dutilleux’s early work. Dutilleux studied at the Conservatoire de Paris from 1933 until 1938, when he was awarded the Grand Prix de Rome at the third attempt – the most coveted award for graduates of the conservatory’s composition programme. However, he was only able to take advantage of the associated scholarship at the Villa Medici until he was called up for military service in June 1939. After being discharged, Dutilleux worked in Paris as a pianist, taught harmony and produced dance music arrangements. In 1942 he was chorus director at the Paris Opéra before becoming head of music productions at the French broadcasting company ORTF – a position he only gave up in 1963 to devote himself entirely to composing. Dutilleux made his international breakthrough in 1951 with his First Symphony. Ten years later, through the mediation of Alfred Cortot, he was appointed professor of composition at the École normale, where he lectured until 1970. His main works since the end of the 1960s were the cello concerto [Tout un monde lointain…] written for Mstislav Rostropovich, the string quartet [Ainsi la nuit], the violin concerto [L’arbre des songes] (for Isaac Stern), [Mystère de l’instant] for 24 strings, cimbalom and percussion (for Paul Sacher), the song cycle [Correspondances] premiered by Dawn Upshaw and the Berliner Philharmoniker under Sir Simon Rattle and the orchestral work [The Shadows of Time]. Henri Dutilleux died on 22 May 2013 in Paris.