Pascal Dusapin : Double concerto for violin and cello « At Swim-Two-Birds »

Duration : 30 minutes

Viktoria Mullova (violin) and Matthew Barley (cello) perform for the first time in France Double concerto for violin and cello « At Swim-Two-Birds » by Pascal Dusapin, with the Orchestre National de France conducted by Pascal Rophé.

With regards to his Double Concerto « At Swim-Two-Birds », Pascal Dusapin wrote: "_I hesitated for a long time before accepting the commission for a double concerto. I had just finished a violin concerto (Aufgang, 2011) for Renaud Capuçon and the Cologne Orchestra, and had already begun writing a cello concerto for Alisa Weilerstein and the Chicago Orchestra (Outscape, 2015), not to mention I had to also compose a long violin solo for Calin Widmann (In vivo, 2014), and had promised Ansssi Karttunen that I would compose a cello sonata for her and the pianist Nicolas Hodges (Slackline, 2016_)... I was therefore alreay surrounded by works for violin and cello. It was then that Viktoria Mullova and Matthew Barley asked me if I was interested in composing a double concerto for them. It was a calm but insistant request that greatly impressed me. I told them that I wasn't sure, that composing yet again for these two instruments might be "too much" for me... They replied that a violin and a cello together was an entirely different instrument altogether. That changed everything for me..."

Pascal Dusapin was therefore faced with an entirely new instrument, "an instrument within which existed two different natures, a true dialogue". An instrument also with its own issues of balance: whereas the violin imposes itself easily upon an orchestra, the same cannot be said for the cello, therefore creating an issue with regards to the balance between the two. From a structural perspective, the number of movements was obvious: two, thereby placing itself between Aufgang and its three movements and Outscape with only one movement. Two movements facing each other, symbolic physical representation of the work's balance and duality. Whilst working on the work, Pascal Dusapin discovered the work At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien. Published in 1939 and praised by James Joyce, Graham Greene, and Anthony Burgess, the work describes the  wanderings and wonderings of a lazy student and aspiring writer, whose literary characters invite the reader into a fascinating mise en abyme through which new characters are born. The stories gradually blend into one another until reality is indistinguishable from Irish mythology.

If the story is almost as original as Joyce's Ulysses, Pascal Dusapin did not use O'Brien's literary title to establish a parallel, convinced that "the music represents nothing more than the music". (Quote from a lecture, 1995). Inspired by "the narrative and structural extravagance of this Irish writer", Pascal Dusapin did not want to associate an idea to his music but rather use the notion of "confusion" as a starting point to create "a strictly musical fictional work". "I realised at that point that I was searching for a structure and progression of musical events that would ressemble each other, where the story written by the imaginary protagonist is mixed with the real story of the author". "And there are two birds in the title", says the composer, smiling. Two birds whom the soloists appear to incarnate musically on several occasions; not so much through dialogue (violin and cello do not form a duet in the strict sense), nor through a fusion (are they really one and the same intrument?), but rather through a simple and perfect union, sometimes relaying or accompanying each other, sometimes in unison, in a subtle play of to-and-fro that naturally extends to their relationship with the orchestra.

Flutes, percussion and strings are scattered throughout the long solo harmonies. In the first bars, the violin comes in on a chord played by the cello. In the second phrase, it moves in unison with its partner before distancing itself in contrary motion. Two phrase to introduce a "double concerto" that never stops questioning its own duality.

L'Orchestre National de France performs Webern, Dusapin, Stravinsky and Varèse
Full concert
The Orchestre National de France performs Webern, Dusapin, Stravinsky and Varèse
Auditorium de la Maison de la Radio
Pascal Dusapin
All artists
  • Pascal RophéConductor
  • Orchestre National de FranceOrchestra
  • Viktoria MullovaPerformer
  • Matthew BarleyPerformer