Dutilleux, Henri (1916-)
Ainsi la nuit
Commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation for the Juilliard Quartet, written between 1971 and 1977 in memory of friend and art lover Ernest Sussman and as homage to Olga Koussevitsky, Ainsi la nuit (Hence the Night) was premiered in Paris by the Parrenin Quartet on January 6, 1977, and performed for the first time in America in Washington, D.C., on April 13, 1978.
As Dutilleux explained, the genesis of the work was unique: "I had never before composed for string quartet. I first roughed out pieces like studies to practise this new task. Even if they rather consisted of fragments somewhat unrelated to each other, I sent them to the Juilliard Quartet so they would get used to my writing." The composer then attempted to link the seven resulting "studies" together in a definitive version, by irregularly slotting Parentheses in(as he writes in the score's foreword): "often short parentheses, but quite important through their assigned organic role. References to what follows (or precedes) are inserted, as benchmarks."
The resulting strains between fragments (only movements 5 to 7 are linked together without Parentheses) have progressively led the composer to an understanding of the score as a whole: "Everything mutates into a kind of a vision of the night, therefore the title. In other words, Ainsi la nuit appears as a succession of "states" with an impressionist streak." Another representation of the concept of a varying and foreshadowing memory cherished by Dutilleux, the Quartet sees each of its movements being announced once at least.
The trajectory underlined by the thematic has its continuity ensured by a tight system of relationships—between the first four Parentheses and Movements, and between Movements as well (1 and 5, 3 and 4). For instance, the chord structure in the Introduction, quoted in the first Parenthesis, is concluded in the third Movement ("Litanies"), before being recalled in the fourth Parenthesis and the seventh Movement ("Temps suspendu").
Everything is played without interruption—the only pause taking place between the third Movement and the following Parenthesis. The instrumental writing of it all is openly set in the wake of quartets questioning time in music, such as those by Beethoven or from the Second Viennese School, and is parallel in its conception to the contemporary situation of the string quartet.
Alain Poirier (Guide de la musique de chambre, Fayard) Translation: Martin Joset