Remembering 20th Century Masters Henri Dutilleux & Harold Shapero

Henri Dutilleux (Schott Music)

In recent months we have lost several icons from different aspects of twentieth century and contemporary culture, such as legendary film critic Roger Ebert (d. April 4, 2013) and British conductor Sir Colin Davis (d. April 14, 2013). In the month of May the classical music world grieved two beloved composers, Henri Dutilleux (January 22, 1916-May 22, 2013) and Harold Shapero (April 29, 1920-May 17, 2013). Both composers came to be identified with major musical currents in their respective countries and their reputations were established through a relatively small number of works.

Dutilleux, who is considered by some to be a modernist composer, focused on manipulations of sonority to imply narratives and aural representations of visual symbols. He is among a collective of composers that had wide-reaching international influence through their emergence from French traditions, including Pierre Boulez (b. 1925), Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) and Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). Aside from his work as a composer, which garnered him the Grand Prix de Rome (1938), Siemens Music Award (2005) and an honorary membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Dutilleux spent time as a choral director at the Paris Opera, director of music productions for ORTF (French Radio) and professor of composition at the École Normale de Musique de Paris and Paris Conservatoire. Over the course of the twentieth century his life and legacy became intertwined with the pulse of classical music in France.

American neo-classicist Harold Shapero was an eccentric and important figure in the Boston music scene for over seven decades, thirty-seven years of which were spent on the faculty of the Brandeis University Department of Music. A close friend and colleague of Arthur Berger, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Irving Fine and Lukas Foss, Shapero was instrumental in the development of the renowned electronic music studio at Brandeis during the 1960s and 1970s. His top-notch pedigree of studies with Nadia Boulanger, Paul Hindemith and Walter Piston explains Copland’s comment that Shapero possessed “absolutely perfected technical equipment.” Stylistically his music is placed in the American “Stravinsky School.” A mainstay at the MacDowell Colony and Tanglewood, Shapero was recognized with a Prix de Rome, Naumburg Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Fulbright Fellowship.

Both Dutilleux and Shapero shared a connection with Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951), the famed former music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and founder of the Tanglewood Music Center. Koussevitzky’s foundation commissioned Dutilleux’s Symphony no. 2, “Le Double” (1955-1959) and  Nuits: cinq études pour quatuor à cordes (1974), as well as Shapero’s Symphony for Classical Orchestra (1947). The Koussevitzky archive lives here at the Library of Congress and is one of the foremost collections of major twentieth-century compositions, including Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, op. 33 (1945) and Aaron Copland’s Symphony no. 3 (1946).

The Library holds collection materials related to Dutilleux, Shapero and their relationship to Koussevitzky. Correspondence between these figures and holograph manuscript scores are available for study in the Koussevitzky Archive. Additionally, correspondence may be found in special collections of Dutilleux’s and Shapero’s colleagues, such as Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Finding aids for those collections are available here. One sample resource is a letter from Bernstein to Koussevitzky. In this letter, Bernstein, who conducted the premiere of Shapero’s Symphony for Classical Orchestra with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1948, described the work as a “marvel.” For more information about the Library’s holdings related to Dutilleux and Shapero, please visit our Performing Arts Encyclopedia and main catalog.

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