Dutilleux’s song cycle for soprano and orchestra Correspondances went through several iterations before arriving at the version we know today. Dedicated to Dawn Upshaw and Sir Simon Rattle, the work was commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, a commission that predated the arrival of Rattle as the orchestra’s chief conductor by many years; as early as 1983, Dutilleux was asked to write a piece for this orchestra, and he originally planned a work including a part for chorus.
At its first performance in Berlin on 5 September 2003, Correspondances had four movements: Danse cosmique (based on a text by the contemporary Indian writer Prithwindra Mukherjee); A Slava et Galina; Gong (a Rilke sketch in French translation); De Vincent à Théo... (freely adapted from letters by Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo). But Dutilleux was clearly not happy with this structure and he later added a second Rilke setting, Gong II. Dutilleux always preferred an odd number of movements, and in 2010 he decided to add a connecting interlude to the two movements of his chamber work Les Citations for oboe, harpsichord, double bass and percussion, bringing the total number of movements up to the magic odd number. Dutilleux later changed the order of the movements of Correspondances, and this is the version we hear tonight. Gong does not feature a gong, but does have the orchestra creating strike-and-resound sounds, while the second Rilke setting does include a real gong (more precisely a tam-tam).
The word ‘correspondances’ has two meanings: literally, it means ‘letters’, and the Solzhenitsyn and Van Gogh movements both use letters as the source text. The Solzhenitsyn movement extracts a letter from the writer to Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife Galina Vishnevskaya, thanking them for their support in one of the darkest periods of his life. But the Baudelaire-derived significance of the word correspondances – the mingling of the senses – was at least as important to Dutilleux. His cello concerto Tout un monde lointain... (1967-70), written for Rostropovich, was inspired by Baudelaire. Just as Correspondances connects with this source of inspiration, the final song De Vincent à Théo links to his orchestral Timbres, espace, mouvement (1978, revised 1990) because it quotes a fragment. Timbres, espace, mouvement, first conducted by Rostropovich, was inspired by Van Gogh’s La nuit étoilée (Starry Night; 1889). While composing it, Dutilleux read the painter’s letters to his brother Theo and was touched by his spiritual yearnings. Indeed, the theme of spirituality is the common link in this eclectic selection of texts.
Correspondances exhibits Dutilleux’s orchestral mastery and love of the female voice, a love that was particularly strong in his last decade. In January 2013, a few months before his death, he gained much pleasure from a recording made by tonight’s conductor and soloist.