Shigeru Fujita

Matrix and choice:A consideration of Henri Dutilleux’s working practices

Henri Dutilleux was discreet about exposing his working practices. This might have partly been because he felt little need to theorize them. However, he was never a composer who believed in improvisation, declaring that the “music is a science, it cannot be improvised” and “it has to have a justification.” (Conversations with Gleyman) His working manuscripts, the majority of which are housed by the Paul Sacher Foundation, help to verify this statement; reading them closely, we can observe a consistent element of his compositional practice that could be described as “matrix and choice.” I will explore this practice by examining some existing “monstres” (i.e., continuity drafts) of Dutilleux’s orchestral works, including the Second Symphony, Métaboles, Tout un monde lointain…, Timbres, espace, mouvement, and Mystères de l’instant.

The most impressive example of Dutilleux’s “matrix and choice” practice is found in the draft for Timbres, espace, mouvement. Searching for the harmonization of the repeated descending line (rehearsal number 22), Dutilleux neatly inscribed 24 three-note chords in a 4 × 6 matrix: four three-note chords in each column divide 12 notes of the complete chromatic scale, and their disposition becomes more and more open from left to right. Importantly, however, Dutilleux avoided applying them systematically to his music, instead choosing what he believed to be the best sonorities to elaborate the final harmonies.

However, there may be a hidden link between serialist composers and Dutilleux, who “could easily have become, for a short time, a serialist composer.” Indeed, we can find another form of the “matrix and choice” practice in Tout un monde lointain…, in which Dutilleux integrated some serial elements in a personal manner. No evidence in the draft revealed that Dutilleux used a type of 12 × 12 matrix like those employed as analytical tools for the post-tonal theory (by J. Straus) or demonstrated as a theoretical experimentation for post-Webern language (by P. Boulez). However, when Dutilleux was composing the work, he seems to have thought along these lines, and interestingly, Dutilleux’s “matrix and choice” practice was associated with his own form of harmonic serialism in Miroirs.

In the Miroirs draft, Dutilleux wrote down a six-note segment of the 12-tone row for the work (first presented just before rehearsal number 7 in the first section), and he listed six possible inversions of the same set of notes, whose disposition became more open from left to right. As in Timbres, espace, mouvement, Dutilleux had no intention to use all these inversions in a systematic manner: he chose three of these to incorporate in the final version.

Thus, these examples suggest that, in his working process, Dutilleux might conceive a certain matrix of possibilities as logically equal, but he still allowed his artistic sensibility to dictate his ultimate choices.


Tokyo College of Music, Japan

Is associate professor in Tokyo College of Music and Lecturer, Musashino Academia Musicae. He has a Phd in Musicology with a thesis entitled Turangalîla-symphonie, Des canyons aux étoiles…, Éclairs sur l’au-delà : A study of Olivier Messiaen’s musical form and the invention of the new method of analysis (2007). Fujita has authored and several book chapters and articles.