Deux sonnets de Jean Cassou

Deux sonnets de Jean Cassou is a song-cycle for baritone and piano written by the French composer Henri Dutilleux in 1954.[1] He later transcribed or allowed transcriptions of the work for various ensembles.

Deux sonnets de Jean Cassou
Song cycle by Henri Dutilleux
Textpoems by Jean Cassou
Composed1954 (1954)
  • baritone
  • piano

It is based on poems written by Jean Cassou when he was a prisoner of war.[2] It has been championed by major singers like Gérard Souzay, Gilles Cachemaille and more recently Renée Fleming.


Jean Cassou was the first Chief Conservator of the Musée National d'Art Moderne. He was dismissed from his post by the Vichy government in 1940 and subsequently joined the Résistance. As a result, he was arrested and, while in prison, he conceived Trente-trois sonnets composés au secret (Thirty-three sonnets composed in solitary confinement) which he had to memorize since he was denied pen and paper.[3] They were clandestinely published in 1944.[4]


Dutilleux first encountered Cassou's poems in 1944, shortly after they were published.[3][5] Ten years later, he reread them and decided to set to music two of them, for baritone and piano: Il n'y avait que des troncs déchirés (There was nothing but torn trunks) and J'ai rêvé que je vous portais entre mes bras (I dreamed that I carried you in my arms).[2] The songs are markedly contrasted. The first one is violent and depicts a ruined castle, the second one is calm and dream-like, a remembrance of past love.[2][5]


  • Il n'y avait que des troncs déchirés
  • J'ai rêvé que je vous portais entre mes bras[1]


In the mid-1990s, Dutilleux orchestrated the song-cycle.[6] Chandos Records released the premier recording of the orchestrated version in 1996.[7]

In 2011, Pascal Gallois transcribed it for bassoon and piano with the composer's approval. The transcription was played at the Hôtel de Lauzun in presence of the composer.[8]

Dutilleux transcribed it for soprano and orchestra for Renée Fleming who recorded it in 2012.[4]

Other Cassou Sonnets set to music by DutilleuxEdit

Dutilleux discovered Cassou's poems in 1944 and immediately wrote La Geôle (The Jail) for voice and orchestra based on one of them.[5]

In 1954, he set Eloignez-vous (Walk away) to music, along with Il n'y avait que des troncs déchirés and J'ai rêvé que je vous portais entre mes bras. Although the three poems were premièred together, Eloignez-vous was not included in the cycle and only resurfaced in April 2011.[3]

Dutilleux had this to say about his work on Cassou's poems:

I chose three of the Trente-Trois Sonnets composés au secret, published during the Occupation, as I've already said, by the underground press Editions de Minuit (Jean Cassou was still in prison at the time). I had already set one of them, which I called "La Geôle", and dedicated it to my brother Paul, who was held in a prisoner-of-war-camp. That song has been published.

I had been greatly struck by the beauty of these sonnets, in which contained violence was mingled with gentleness, and in 1954 I read them again. Their nobility of thought, now that they are distanced from the terrible times that gave rise to them, places them in the category of pure lyric poetry. I should like to quote Cassou himself when he refers to these lines, "at last delivered from the sob that gave them birth." Much later, in 1982, it was a very moving experience for me to stand next to him at a ceremony at the Elysée Palace, when we were both decorated by François Mitterrand. But on that occasion it was not only the poet that the president was honoring, it was the great Resistance leader – "Jean Noir" to give his underground name. So in 1954 I started to set three more of these sonnets with the idea of including the "La Geôle" in the cycle. These songs were broadcast by the BBC in 1991 and have been since published and recorded.

External linksEdit


  1. ^ a b IRCAM fact sheet
  2. ^ a b c review
  3. ^ a b c Le Monde article – 2011
  4. ^ a b Decca CD Poèmes liner notes – 2012
  5. ^ a b c Review : A Celebration of Henri Dutilleux, Friday 29 April 2005, Purcell Room, London (Janet Notenoquah). [1]
  6. ^ "En ce moment j’orchestre des pages de quasi jeunesse" – Interview of Henri Dutilleux by Bruno Serrou, December 1995. [2]
  7. ^ "Chandos CD liner notes" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-12. Retrieved 2015-05-23.
  8. ^ Pascal Gallois Archived 2015-11-17 at the Wayback Machine