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How Dutilleux composed a new work for Slava on the back of an envelope

This memoir of Henri Dutilleux, whose death was announced today, is by Robert Fitzpatrick, former Dean of the Curtis Institute.

Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) was a true gentleman and a very gentle man. He was a great friend of Slava Rostropovich and in 1990, he was composer in residence at Les Rencontres Musicales d’Evian of which Slava was President (bankrolled by his friend Antoine Riboud, founder of Danone).

The festival also celebrated Isaac Stern’s 70th birthday with a performance of Dutilleux’s L’Arbre des songes for violin and orchestra. Stern was soloist with Slava on the podium.

dutilleux slava


As Slava and Dutilleux were travelling to Evian by car, Slava asked him for a fanfare to open the concert. Dutilleux wrote a 3 minute work, literally on the back of an envelope, for trumpets, trombones, percussion and 3 piccolos!! The Curtis Orchestra staff copied the parts and the students rehearsed the work later that day before the ink was dry.

Slava loved the work because it was antiphonal and filled with impish humor, ending quietly with the piccolos and bass drum. The students also performed it from the windows of the Hotel Royal for a TV documentary (chasing guests from their rooms) as Slava conducted from ground level near the swimming pool.

At the final concert, Slava decided to repeat the fanfare as an encore outdoors with the players (playing from memory) on the roof of the casino and the little theater just beside it. They had rehearsed it in place during the day and all went well. By the time the concert ended, it was dark (around 10:30 PM) but Slava had remembered to have lights on the musicians.

One problem: no lights on Slava and the students couldn’t see him. Hervé Corre, the administrative director of the festiva, had the idea to ask the Queen of Spain’s chauffeur (her Majesty was in attendance) to drive her Mercedes 600 limousine close to Slava and turn on the highbeam headlights. As the driver moved the big car forward he ran over Hervé’s foot and trapped it under the right front tyre but turned on the headlights at the same time; Slava immediately began the Dutilleux Fanfare (now called Slava’s Fanfare) as Hervé started to scream about his foot (he actually was able to slide it out of his shoe with no serious damage).

Everyone was thrilled by the brilliant conclusion especially Slava and Henri Dutilleux. The students were very happy to climb down from their perches about 15 meters above the ground. Only personalities like Rostropovich and Dutilleux could create such an unforgettable happening.



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  1. Whyffenpoof says:

    What a story! Dutilleux était un des meilleurs.

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