The music for cello by Pascal Dusapin:

Cello solo:

Incisa (1982)

Item (1985)

Invece (1991)

Iota (1996)

Immer (1996)

Imago (2004)

50 notes en 3 variations (2010)

For Magnussissime (2018)

Cello and piano:

Slackline (2015)

Cello and Orchestra:

Celo, Cello Concerto No.1 (1996)

Outscape, Cello Concerto No. 2 (2015)

At Swim-Two-Birds, Concerto for Violin and Cello (2016)

Chamber music:

Laps (1987-1995) for cello and clarinet

Canto (1994) for soprano, clarinet and cello

Loop (1995) for two cello quartets

Ohé  (1996) for cello and clarinet

2 String Trios

7 String Quartets


Some of the most important music for the cello of the last decades is by Pascal Dusapin and it looks like he is not about to abandon the instrument. Solo pieces, concertos, duos, trios, quartets - he has written for the cello in almost every possible combination. He has never written with only one cellist in his mind, he clearly has had his own image of the cello and moulded it around the personality of any cellist he was writing for. Sonia Wieder-Atherton, Walter Grimmer, Alisa Weilerstein and myself are among the cellists who have worked with him over the years. I started playing Pascal's music relatively late when many of the pieces existed already.

Now that I have played most of his cello pieces I have developed an understanding of the strong connection Pascal has always had with the cello. The pieces are so charged with emotions that I feel writing for the cello is for him almost like writing a diary. They seem less connected with the occasion of the first performance or the performer than with what was going on in his own life at the moment the pieces were born. Yet, when I play any of them - even the ones written originally for other cellists - I have the feeling they were all written for someone just like me, so personally involved I become with their story.

I recently gave the first performances of Slackline for cello and piano with Nicolas Hodges in Buenos Aires, Paris and Berkeley, California. It is a worthy successor to the Sonatas of Brahms, Debussy or Faure. In the last decades the focus of many composers shifted towards solo pieces and unusual duo combinations, but with Slackline the cello-piano repertoire now has a new masterpiece, Debussy-like in its intimacy but Mahlerian in its scale.


"In order to learn, I compose music."

Pascal Dusapin is difficult to classify as a composer. He has written many large scale works: 7 operas, 11 Concertos, his orchestral cycle 7 solos spans over 17 years, yet at the same time he has written a huge amount of solo pieces and chamber music often of the most intimate kind. He studied architecture, he exhibits as a photographer and recently made a sound and video installation filling a whole sports hall in Donaueshingen. He studied many subjects linked to composition yet he didn't study composition.

Pascal has a huge appetite for music; you don't see many composers as often in concerts in Paris - especially after the passing of Henri Dutilleux - and I don't know anyone with a more impressive studio for listening to music. He has a very interesting way of listening to recordings, he often points out aspects of sound and acoustics that would seem secondary for a normal listener. I have a feeling that listening is an important part of composing for him. When I asked him to give an example of how listening might influence his music he gives this example: "This morning I was listening to a an old recording of an early Haydn Quartet. The simplicity of Haydn's phrases, the perfect architecture of the form and the perfect performance made me feel a kind of state of grace, which was very real. That feeling was what I brought with me when I sat down at my desk to compose. It gave something concrete, yet unobtainable to reach for."

"In my music form has become style"

One important influence for Pascal was Iannis Xenakis, their relation lasted from the beginning of his interest in composing until the end of Xenakis's life. Pascal insists Xenakis was not his teacher but his "Maître", he learned with Xenakis. Xenakis's background as an architect and the fact that Pascal's two brothers are architects themselves led him to study architecture, not to become an architect, but as part of his quest for understanding form. Form and shape are the first things one feels when listening to a piece by Dusapin.

Pascal has had long collaborations with many musicians: the Arditti String Quartet, the baritone Georg Nigl, Accroche Note-ensemble, clarinettist Armand Angster, cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton etc. When I talk to him about his relations with these musicians, I feel the collaboration is more on a human level than on a technical one: "Contrary to many of my contemporaries I never did workshop kind of work with my performer friends. I have a very human, loving relationship with all of them, they are simply the people through whom I have learned my craft. I can't really say I collaborate with them during composing, I write partly for the person who is going to perform the piece and partly I invent that person in my head. When I wrote the Violin Concerto for Renaud Capuçon I kept writing for him and yet not for him. By now I have worked with Georg Nigl so much that I feel I know his voice by heart, I know how he reacts and his way of phrasing, but when I write something for him I don't want to be locked inside him or inside my idea of him, it has to be the piece itself that invents the performer."

"Music is condemned to time"

The better I know Pascal, the more I see how he loves people, music, literature, films; he loves to talk about all of them and often explains his own music through them. When he sits down to compose, he walks his own path, any influence from anybody or anything is on a subconscious level. This gives his music a feel of timelessness, it is music that found its way to him and allowed him to write itself.

Anssi Karttunen, 2015

(text written originally for the program book of Musica Nova Helsinki 2015)


Programme notes for Slackline:

Pascal Dusapin wrote Slackline for cello and piano, dedicated to Anssi Karttunen, in the summer of 2015 soon after finishing Outscape, his second cello concerto. Slackline is in four movements which are both contrasting and related, consequences of each other. The reflective first movement explores the extreme registers of the two instruments, hinting at conflicts. The almost impossibly fast second movement allows in recognizable influences from other genres. The third movement opens up a vast landscape where the anxieties of the previous movements have frozen, not disappeared. The last movement is the explosion of the inevitable, leading eventually to acceptance. The piece which never offered any illusion of optimism finishes in mature tranquility.

Composed exatly 100 years after Debussy's Sonata for cello and piano, Slackline is in its size and emotional scale a direct continuation in the tradition of the great instrumental duos of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

© Anssi Karttunen (2016)

Pascal Dusapin composa Slackline pour violoncelle et piano, dédiée à Anssi Karttunen, au cours de l’été 2015, après avoir fini Outscape, son deuxième concerto pour violoncelle.  

Les quatre mouvements de la pièce sont, en même temps, contrastés et liés, conséquence l’un de l’autre. Le premier mouvement, réflectif, explore les registres opposés des deux instruments, insinuant un conflict. Le deuxième mouvement - dont la rapidité va presqu'au-delà du possible - introduit des influences assumées provenant d’autres genres. Le troisième mouvement éclôt sur un vaste paysage où les anxiétés des mouvements précédents sont figés, pas disparus.  Le dernier mouvement est en soi l’explosion de l’inévitable, menant finalement à l’acceptation.  Cette piece qui n’a jamais offert un optimisme illusoire, s’achève en une traquille maturité. 

Composée exactement 100 ans après la Sonate pour violoncelle et piano de Debussy, Slackline est par sa dimension et son échelle émotionnelle une continuation directe de la tradition des grands duos instrumentaux de la fin du XIXe et début du XXe siècle.

© Anssi Karttunen (2016)

Un cielo y el otro

A choreography by Diana Theocharidis on music by Pascal Dusapin

Pascal Dusapin and the cello

Photo: © Pascal Dusapin

photo © MvB / Concert au l'Auiditorium du Louvre 13/1/2020 "....Avec sa grâce féline et son geste engagé, Anssi Karttunen,  violoncelliste finlandais bien connu des scènes françaises, interprète quant à lui, et en alternance, deux pièces plus anciennes. Iota - 50 notes en 3 variations « sur un thème de Giuseppe Colombi » for Magnus est dédié à un autre Finlandais, le compositeur, Magnus Lindberg, pour ses 60 ans et en 60 notes. Peu de matière, donc, sous l’archet de l’interprète mais une manière aussi sensible que subtile de nous la faire entendre, entre plénitude du son, filtrage et distorsion passagère, silences expressifs et fragilité de l’énonciation. Invece (« au contraire ») met à l’œuvre l’énergie du geste qui est ressassé de manière obsessionnelle, urgente, jusqu’à l’épuisement. Magnifiquement engagée et habitée, la performance de l’interprète est spectaculaire.

Slackline pour violoncelle et piano juxtapose trois mouvements, dont le dernier abrite en son centre un intermezzo éruptif. Le titre fait référence à cet exercice sportif qui consiste à marcher en équilibre sur une sangle élastique suspendue dans les airs. Dusapin y retient l’idée d’un équilibre fragile dont dépend la coexistence des deux parties instrumentales. Les deux « voix » sont parfaitement autonomes (violoncelle rampant, piano plutôt carillonnant) dans un premier mouvement très contemplatif, puis fusionnelles dans un second mouvement où elles « groovent » de concert. Les écritures se croisent dans la dernière partie, le violoncelle devenant l’ombre portée du piano, et réciproquement, dans une sorte d’errance au temps suspendu. L’épisode central forge un espace vibratoire impressionnant sous le geste investi de nous deux interprètes en parfait synergie." Michele Tosi