The music of Henri Dutilleux is most commonly described as being somewhere between the impressionism of Debussy and the modernism of Boulez, though his style has an idiosyncratic character that is almost impossible to categorise accurately. Dutilleux was a perfectionist, and his final collection of published works remains relatively small given how long and active a life he led. Dutilleux often revised and reworked his music over a period of several years, and disowned whole swathes of his compositions because they did not represent his mature style.
Most notable works
Tout un monde lointain (1967-70)
Symphony No. 2 ‘Le Double’ (1959)
String Quartet: Ainsi la nuit (1973-76)
A life in brief
Henri Dutilleux is born on 22 January in Angers. His family have an artistic background: his maternal grandfather Julien Koszul was a fellow pupil of Fauré and, later, director of the conservatoire in Roubaix near Lille.
At the end of the war Dutilleux’s family move to Douai, in northern France.
He begins studying composition at the local conservatoire.
He joins the Paris Conservatory and studies with the Gallon brothers, Noël and Jean, and Henri Büsser.
He wins the prestigious Prix de Rome with his cantata L’anneau du roi.
During the Occupation of France, Dutilleux acts as accompanist for a singing class at the Conservatoire and chef de chant at the Opéra. As part of the latter role, he is asked to prepare Hans Pfizner’s Palestrina, which he hates.
He marries Geneviève Joy, a concert pianist. Their marriage lasts 63 years, ending only when Geneviéve dies of cancer in 2009.
Dutilleux writes his only piano sonata, which he dedicates to his wife. Geneviève Joy also premieres the work. He views this work as his Opus 1, the first work up to his mature standard.
He is awarded the Grand-Croix de la Légion d’honneur by the French government.
Dutilleux dies aged 97 on 22 May. He is buried in the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris.