© Collège de France - Editions Salabert


Pascal Dusapin studied Visual Arts, Science of Art and Aesthetics at the Paris-Sorbonne University. He participated in seminars by Iannis Xenakis from 1974 to 1978, and was a resident fellow at the Villa Medici in Rome from 1981 to 1983.

He has received many distinctions from the start of his career as a composer. They include the SACEM Symphonic Prize in 1994, the French Ministry of Culture Grand Prix National de Musique (1995), Grand Prix of the City of Paris (1998), Victoire de la Musique (1998), and again as ‘Composer of the Year’ (2002), Cino del Duca prize granted by the Académie des Beaux-arts (2005).

He was appointed to the Chair of Artistic Creation at the Collège de France in 2006, received the Dan David International Prize in 2007, and became Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honour in 2014.

He has composed many works for soloists, chamber music, grand orchestra and operas. His orchestral works include his cycle of seven solos which ends with Uncut (2008-2009) and Waves (2019) his latest concerto for organ.

His great many operatic works include Roméo & Juliette (premiere in 1989 at the Opéra de Montpellier), Medeamaterial (1992, at Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels) and To Be Sung (1994, at Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre), followed by Perelà, Uomo di Fumo commissioned by the Opéra National de Paris, (2003, premiere at Opéra Bastille) and Faustus, the Last Night (2003-2004), commissioned by the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin (Prix de la Création 2007 at the Victoires de la Musique Classique and Choc du Monde de la Musique for its DVD), both staged by Peter Mussbach. The Aix-en-Provence Festival commissioned Passion (premiere in 2008), based on the Orpheus legend. In 2011, at Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, O’Mensch, a lieder cycle to poems by Nietzsche, was staged by the composer with his loyal performers, baritone Georg Nigl and pianist Vanessa Wagner. In October 2014, he devised Mille Plateaux, a visual and musical installation, for the Donaueschingen Festival, also presented in particular at the Lieu Unique in Nantes in 2015. In 2015, his opera Penthesilea, based on Heinrich von Kleist’s play, premiered at Théâtre de La Monnaie in Brussels. 

In 2019, Pascal Dusapin presented Lullaby Experience, his first work in collaboration with IRCAM, at the ManiFeste festival. That summer, he was a guest at the Salzburg Festival for a ‘Time with Dusapin’. His opera Macbeth Underworld, staged by Thomas Jolly, premiered in September at Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels.

Pascal Dusapin’s works are published by Éditions Salabert (Universal Music Publishing France); most are recorded by Naïve/Classic.



" Macbeth Underworld (2019) "


Editions Salabert


Those Two stand for turmoil, aberration, violence, utter chaos. From dusk to dark, their story unfolds in a shadowy atmosphere where everything is murky, opaque, bleak and cruel. The Weird Sisters repeat along with Him: “Beau est noir et noir est beau” (Beautiful is dark and dark is beautiful). They are the oracle, a sort of three-headed devil, but they are faeries, too. The Two are possessed by insane demons, haunting them like burning fires, left to their frightful fears. They no longer know what they have done, but must do it. Everything happens as if they had to repeat or replay it. It’s more than they can resist. Together, they confuse everything: semblance and reality, before and after. They hear voices. They no longer know what is happening, something From Elsewhere traverses them; their vision is blurred; their senses are exacerbated, bloated like avid Gorgons. Their eyes are open inside them, petrifying them, while He must kill him, the King. In fact, no one remembers really why: to become King, of course — that is easy to understand — but at the same time, he has visions. The dagger floats and hovers in front of him like a slow bird in flight. It’s a mirage. She is the one who wants that: to kill the King, that good King, she transgresses all that happens; she understands nothing of herself: it’s sheer confusion; she inverts everything and the Other kills the King because he believes that is what he, too, wants. He stops thinking; he is a fake strongman; he is weak. When it’s over, he remembers nothing; he hallucinates. All of a sudden, he kills everything around him; it’s irresistible: he cannot stop. Then he is frightened, constantly fearful, fragile, almost oversensitive. He falls apart and, suddenly, she, too, dies and everything degenerates and becomes loathsome inside him. In the end, he knows: it is too late and everything is over.

When I began thinking of an opera on this accursed text, I found myself a little like Her and Him: lost, frightened, anxious — true, without the murder, but still, pursued by quite a stench of death. I imagined frightening myself. Why did I have to write that? Yet another story with a tragic ending. But I couldn’t resist. I had not yet finished my previous opera — where the woman flays her man before devouring him with her red open mouth, displaying sharp teeth — when I realised that I had to go even further in horror. So, now I’ve done just that. Fortunately, none of this is true. It’s an opera, like so many operas: brimming with dread, alarm, fragile, even funny as the singing never stops.

With an opera, I’m not trying to tell a story, but rather to portray a world as I understand it, as it passes before my own eyes. It’s not a matter of telling a story, but rather of creating more stories within the opera. Each opera bears its own burden, anxiety and indescribable distress. It comes out of the blue. The text appears of its own volition, standing there facing you; it’s crazy, it’s like speaking to oneself. First, it sizes you up balefully for some time — a long time — ruminating within you, before constraining you. Then, you have to Say That with music, through music because that’s how you create an opera.

The permanency of Those Two’s story has never stopped weighing on our time. It’s even astounding how modern it is. It’s a question, while also being a metaphor, and vice versa. Opera means singing what is of concern to us together. So, I read and reread that play, whose name we do not pronounce, all the translations (something everyone has been doing for a long time), I watched the films (and there are many), the plays (even more, with each individual having their own idea on the issue), I’ve read what has been written about it, in every way (it’s full of underground passages, underbrush, always dark so you can’t see anything). The text made me feel exhausted, overwhelmed, lost. When I was completely submerged, having reached the very bottom, I asked Frédéric Boyer if we could work on it together. I had no choice but to take him on in this adventure. So, he reread everything, too, then rewrote it all. That’s how it happened: one word at a time, one note at a time.

Pascal Dusapin / 28 July 2018

" Aufgang "

For violin and orchestra

Editions Salabert


I like the German word ‘Aufgang’, because it suggests a rising movement. The French translation – échelle (‘scale’) or escalier (‘stairway’) – is necessarily an approach that expresses more of a concept than a movement. The word ‘Aufgang’ came to me rather spontaneously while I was composing, when I couldn’t find a way into the space that the desire for this concerto form had led to. I find it extremely difficult to express what I wanted with this concerto and how I was trying to go about it. I started working on it in 2008. Then I had to put it away. It was the first time that something like that had happened to me. I didn’t want to have anything more to do with it and I gave up the project. Several years later, thanks to the generous and enthusiastic initiative of Renaud Capuçon, I picked it up again and completed it in 2011. To do that, on the one hand I had to start all over again, but on the other hand carry on with everything.

“It was basically all very dark and I was faced with the task of recapturing a certain clarity. In that way, light became a sort of secret motif. Of course, something explicitly musical cannot be formulated with light; it is a metaphor. But when we are composing, sometimes we are so overwhelmed by our own darkness that struggling with the musical material becomes interrelated with seeking the smallest gleam of light, the smallest sparkle. “You could compare writing for violin and orchestra with the strange conflict between dark and light. At first the violin plays in the upper register, the orchestra in the low. Both sing. The orchestra is dark, the violin sounds lost, with a cry so plaintive and subdued that it seems to radiate light like a reflection. It is as though the sun simultaneously rises and sets. I remember having that image very clearly when I started to write. In essence it’s about the merging of the one into the other, as the result of an increasing and subtle confusion of the two.

“And that’s how Aufgang was born: through the desire to set opposites across from one another and to continuously unite them in a stream. During the process of composing, it became increasingly clear that the mixing of darkening and brightening would be the motoric principle of the score. “You could wonder about the use of these images. After all, you can design music with literary representations, but you know that putting music into words is a utopia. But it’s just as true that, in the case of Aufgang, ‘rising of the light’ (Aufgang des Lichts) is what best reflects my intention.”

Pascal Dusapin

" Morning in Long Island "

For large orchestra

Editions Salabert


About his first "concert" for orchestra, Pascal Dusapin says:
"One day in October 1988, with the writer Olivier Cadiot, we found ourselves very unexpectedly in a house in Long Island. It was so cold and wet that it was impossible to sleep. In the early morning I went to the beach. It was so beautiful. I remember the strange light that bathed the sky, the sound of the breaking sea, the flocks of birds gliding in circles, the salty perfumes of the sand and the hugh plants stranded like vines that rustled in wild farandoles. Carried by the wind that swirled in every direction, I heard dance music far away, like fragments of an ancient memory. I walked for hours. On my return, I explained my emotions to Olivier (frozen to death) who said to me: "One day you should write a piece that would be called Morning in Long Island." After the composition of the cycle of seven solos for orchestra (Go, Extenso, Apex, Clam, Exeo, Reverso, Uncut) whose composition took from 1991 to 2009, Morning in Long Island inaugurates a new cycle on nature which should include three "concerts" for orchestra. '
Long Island hardly looks like the small plots of land lost off of our french coasts, on the contrary, it’s like a sort of tongue measuring almost two hundred kilometers long, bordered by beaches and attached to the north american continent by a dozen bridges. Not really a desert island with its seven or eight million inhabitants, its three airports and urbanization extending the New York agglomeration. In this new orchestral piece, however, it is useless to try to stick music to images. "When I listen to an orchestral piece, explains Pascal Dusapin, I hear the sounds and the colors.
I forget the program underlying the writing. I dissociate the issue of the program from the composition and the listening. I only hear forms with very characteristic problems (...) music is not anything other than music "(Fragment d’un discours musical, 1995). The auditor will therefore find quite a few features specific to the musician’s own style, like in the initial material where glissandos and small expressive notes abound. If the term "concert" may announce some concerting dialogues – and Pascal Dusapin has already written several concertos, for trombone, flute, piano and cello in particular - this new piece refers less to virtuosos demonstrations usually qualifying the style as to typical oppositions of a concerto grosso, the presence of a wind trio placed alongside the grand orchestra recalls perhaps the old confrontation of ripieno and the concertino. Clearly, Morning in Long Island situates itself somewhere between the concertos - with soloist – and the solos conceived from 1991-2008 for this “one large instrument that is the orchestra”. Imposing his" figure archetype "from the first notes, the trio participates in the interweaving lines of sound, does not really discuss with the other characters, but constantly appears and disappears like a sort of souvenir or a dream, in a beautiful effect of spatialization when, sometimes, the small group fusions with the other instruments.
As often in Pascal Dusapin, colors, tones and delicate harmonic mutations reveal a form made by the rhythm of manipulations. Pascal Dusapin writes “To compose is also: to weave, to devise, to deform, to interlace, to alter, to degrade, to substitute, to corrupt, to assemble, to braid, to combine, to transform, to decompose, to recompose ... "(Une musique en train de se faire, 2009). At the head of the partition, four enigmatic figures evoke the movements of wind caressing the curves and asperities of a mountain until digging the rock. For the concerto is less dependent on the logic of linear development than of various ways to distort, to bend or to mix the material. A few rare indications the horns, “not to fear a very saturated effect, even if this trill is faulty"; to the trombones and tuba, "muffled, like a dark harmonic shadow." Indications to which are added very occasional annotations, mentioning a trip to Tokyo or the departure of a friend, making the work a kind of diary, finally recalling, with echoes of dance and jazz, that the music of Pascal Dusapin is deeply marked by personal impressions and experiences, no doubt exceeding the sensations of a solitary walker on a magical morning on Long Island.

Francois-Gildas Tual
(Source: Radio France website)

" Uncut "


Editions Salabert

Solo No. 7 has a title in English difficult to translate but which serves all kinds of expressions to indicate that nothing is limited. I like the word for its conceptual power of suggestion as it refers to a movement more than a resolution.

At this point, the composition included, a problem (in general, I prefer questions ...). How to break the flow without giving the illusion of end? It was not finished because nothing is ever done or even ends. And yet, Uncut will eject the full sources relied upon by the entire cycle. As technology changes, all the musical motifs are grouped under other arrangements, then compacted and rendered unrecognizable. The six horns in the orchestra went Fanfara begin this partition whose purpose seems to break the wall. The six previous modes of melodic solos, cross streak the entire space of Uncut. The only metal percussion - bells, glockenspiel, cymbals, toms, gongs - underline and point each cross in harsh and scathing harmonic lines. Everything is vertical, no melodic deployment can cross the built up construction. Unlike Reverso which consists in the geography of the orchestra, like a photograph that would see all the detais of the foreground at the back, Uncut is a music where there is almost no depth of field sound.

Everything is planned to face, without distance. And while the first six solos dissolve quietly as if the music wanted to run away only to reappear in the next solo, Uncut is a short and intense piece, treated in one piece and concluded fiercely. With it, the shape of Cycle 7 closes and redicovers : the end is clear, but all can continue ...

Pascal Dusapin (March 1st 2009)