Timbres, espace, mouvement (Dutilleux)

Timbres, espace, mouvement (Dutilleux)

Timbres, espace, mouvement (Timbre, space, movement) is a work for orchestra composed by Henri Dutilleux in 1978.

It is subtitled La nuit etoilée (The Starry Night) in reference to a painting by Vincent Van Gogh. The composer wanted to translate in his composition the "almost cosmic whirling effect which (the painting) produces"[1]

This work is written for an orchestra that comprises 16 woodwinds (4 flutes, 4 oboes, 4 clarinets, 4 bassoons), 11 brass instruments (4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba), 12 celli, 10 double basses, percussions, harp, celesta, and timpani; there are no violins or violas. Their absence was meant to translate the impression of relative emptiness and immobility conveyed by the lower half of the painting. On the other hand, the wind instruments and percussions are particularly prominent. Their solos represent the movements of the clouds and the light of the stars and the moon. Space is represented by an unusual distribution of the celli. They are placed at the foreground in a half circle around the conductor. The movement is symbolized by the alternation of static episodes and whirling solos.

The work was commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich who gave the premiere with Washington National Symphony Orchestra on 7 November 1978. The piece is dedicated to Charles Münch. A 1991 revision of this work adds an interlude intended for the violoncellos alone.

It comprises two movements (separated by the interlude). Its execution requires approximately fifteen minutes.


  • Henri Dutilleux: His Life and Works, Caroline Potter ISBN 1-85928-330-6
  • max-texier.ircam.fr
  • The Living Composers Project Contains information on orchestral composition