Evolution Yes, Revolution No!

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Composition in Blue. © Charles Thibo

Something new, definitely. A premiere for me. Interesting, stimulating. It made me reflect my expectations. It immediately connected to my emotions. I felt there was a message, but initially I saw only the outlines, the details needed time to become visible. A piece growing organically out of itself. Harsh contrasts, gentle melodies, progression… Henri Dutilleux’ orchestral piece “Métaboles”, that I heard yesterday at the Philharmonie de Luxembourg, was a pleasant surprise.

Dutilleux wrote this piece between 1962 and 1964; the premiere took place on January 14, 1965. It is written in five sections: Incantatoire, Linéaire, Obsessionnel, Torpide and Flamboyant, terms that designate moods, state of minds, perspectives. By giving the work the title “Métaboles”, he wanted to emphasize the fact that the thematic material undergoes a palpable metamorphosis. Words change their meaning, forms of life differentiate – music undergoes an evolution! Dutilleux insisted that during a performance all five sections are to be performed as one section leads to the next while at the same time there is a metamorphosis inside each section.

Dutilleux lived between 1916 and 2013,  and the French composer was active mainly in the second half of the 20th century. In his obituary on Dutilleux’ death, Paul Griffith wrote in the “New York Times” that the composer’s “position in French music was proudly solitary. Between Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez in age, he was little affected by either, though he took an interest in their work […] But his voice, marked by sensuously handled harmony and color, was his own.” Griffith called him a moderate modernist while Dutilleux himself qualified some of the music of his disciples (i.e. Boulez) “aesthetic terrorism”.

Strong words, and indeed, compared to some of Boulez’ music, “Métaboles” is tame and does not even hint at a revolution or as Nietzsche would put it, at a “revaluation of all values” (Umwertung aller Werte). Sound surfaces, sound colors play their part like in most contemporary compositions, but the evolution of the piece remains intelligible for the ordinary classical music enthusiasts. Dutilleux was influenced by Claude Debussy, Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky, familiar figures with a musical language that no longer frightens or shocks anyone. You do not need a philosophy degree to follow “Métaboles”, just a little patience. And pay attention to the jazz elements!

I had the patience and a lot of fun yesterday at the Philharmonie, there was no reason to run away. If you want to try it for yourself, I recommend the recording by the New York Philharmonic.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.

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