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Albert Roussel

Albert Roussel

Albert Roussel (1869-1937) was one of the most important French composers of his time. His early compositions reflect the main styles of the day; his later works were more advanced than those of his contemporaries.

Albert Roussel was born in Tourcoing, a town close to the Belgian border, where his grandfather was mayor. Destined for a career in the navy, he studied at the Colle‧ge Stanislas in Paris and joined the service in 1887. After he was commissioned, he served several years at sea, mostly in the Far East.

Roussel started composing while on his long voyages, and when he received encouragement for his efforts, he resigned his commission in 1894 and went to Paris to study composition at the relatively advanced age of 25. He entered the newly established Schola Cantorum, where he studied with Vincent d'Indy, its founder. D'Indy was conservative in that he held out against Claude Debussy's impressionism and based his instruction on a thorough knowledge of earlier musical styles.

Roussel's first published composition, a piano piece, appeared in 1898. In 1902 he became a teacher of counterpoint at the Schola, a post he held until 1914, when he resigned to enter the French army during World War I. He served as a transportation officer and saw duty at Verdun and the Battle of the Marne. When his health broke down, he returned to Paris, where he spent the rest of his life.

The best known of Roussel's early works is the ballet Le Festin de l'araignée (1912; The Spider's Feast), a skillfully orchestrated tone poem, somewhat reminiscent of Camille Saint-Saëns's music in the transparency of the writing. This was followed by a large ballet-opera, Padmavati (1914-1918), based on an Indian legend and employing Indian melodies and scales, a result of Roussel's visits to the East as a naval officer. His ballet Bacchus et Ariane (1930) reflects the sumptuousness of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes that influenced so many composers of the time. This rich score shows Roussel's mastery of the impressionist idiom.

Roussel's later compositions reveal other ideals. Already in the Suite in F (1926) and in his Third and Fourth Symphonies (1930 and 1934) he wrote neoclassic pieces, shown in their avoidance of programs, economy of means, clarity of form, 18th-century textures, and driving rhythms. Igor Stravinsky was the chief exponent of neoclassicism, and Roussel was one of its principal exponents. In these compositions the astringent harmonies, wide-ranging melodies, strong rhythms, and bitonality bring Roussel close to the younger composers of the time.

It has been said that Roussel "possessed every quality but that of spontaneous invention." Even though he was not a pathbreaker, he was one of the most important French composers of the first half of the 20th century.

Further Reading

Roussel is discussed in Aaron Copland, The New Music, 1900-1960 (1941; rev. ed. 1968); Wilfrid Mellers, Studies in Contemporary Music (1947); and Joseph Machlis, Introduction to Contemporary Music (1961).

Additional Sources

Deane, Basil, Albert Roussel, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980, 1961.

Demuth, Norman, Albert Roussel: a study, Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1979. □

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Roussel, Albert (Charles Paul Marie)

Roussel, Albert (Charles Paul Marie) (b Tourcoing, 1869; d Royan, 1937). Fr. composer. Despite showing mus. tendencies as a child, began career as naval officer, his service in Indo-China leaving profound impression. Resigned commission 1894 to study mus. Worked with Gigout and from 1898 to 1909 at Schola Cantorum under d'Indy. Prof. of counterpoint, Schola Cantorum, 1902–14, pupils incl. Satie and Varèse. Served in Fr. army 1914–18, thereafter devoting himself to comp. and living secluded life because of ill-health. Once free of d'Indy influence, Roussel developed a neo-classical style in which strong Stravinskyan rhythms and daring harmonies were blended with a rich, sometimes orientally exotic, orch. palette and expressive melodies. His 3rd and 4th syms. represent him at his most individual, but his ballet Bacchus et Ariane is his best-known work. Prin. comps.:OPERAS: La naissance de la lyre (1923–4); Le Testament de la tante Caroline (1932–3).OPERA-BALLET: Padmâvatî (1914–18).BALLET: Le Festin de l'araignée (1912); Bacchus et Ariane (1930); Aeneas (1935).INCIDENTAL MUSIC: Le Marchand de Sable qui passe (1908).ORCH.: syms: No.1 (Le Poème de la forêt) (1904–6), No.2 in B♭ (1919–21), No.3 in G minor (1930), No.4 in A (1934); Prelude to Tolstoy's Resurrection (1903); Pour une fête de printemps (1920); 2 suites from Bacchus et Ariane (1930); Suite in F (1926); pf. conc. (1927); Petite Suite (1929); Sinfonietta, str. (1934); Rapsodie flamande (1936); vc. concertino (1936).VOICE(S) & ORCH.: La Ménace (1908); Madrigal aux muses (1923); Psalm 80, ten., ch., orch. (1928).CHAMBER MUSIC: pf. trio (1902); Divertissement, pf., 5 wind (1906); vn. sonata No.1 (1907–8), No.2 (1924); Serenade, fl., hp., str. trio (1925); Joueurs de flûte, fl., pf. (1924); Trio, fl., va., vc. (1929); str. qt. (1932); Andante and Scherzo, fl., pf. (1934); str. trio (1937).PIANO: Rustiques (1904–6); Suite (1909–10); Sonatina (1912); 3 Pieces (1933).SONGS: 4 Poèmes d'Henri de Régnier (1903); 4 Poèmes d'Henri de Régnier (1907); Flammes (1908); 2 Songs from the Chinese (1907–8); 2 Songs (Light, Farewell) (1918); 2 Songs (Le Bachalier de Salamanque, Sarabande) (1919); Jazz dans la nuit (1928).

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Wolff, Albert (Louis)

Wolff, Albert (Louis) (b Paris, 1884; d Paris, 1970). Fr. conductor and composer. Chorusmaster Opéra-Comique, Paris, 1908, cond. from 1911, mus. dir. 1921–4, th. dir. 1945–6. Cond. first Paris perf. of Ravel's L'Enfant et les sortilèges, 1926, and f.p. of Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias, Paris 1947. Cond. Fr. repertoire at NY Met 1919–21. CG début 1937. Cond., Concerts Lamoureux 1928–34, then Concerts Pasdeloup 1934–40. Fine interpreter of Roussel. Wrote opera L'Oiseau bleu (NY 1919).

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Roussel, Albert

Albert Roussel (älbĕr´ rōōsĕl´), 1869–1937, French composer, studied with Vincent D'Indy. His early works show the influence of impressionism. With the symphonic poem Pour une fête de printemps (1920) and his Second Symphony (1919–21) he achieved a highly personal style marked by subtlety of melodic inflection, sharp dissonance, and contrapuntal agility. He wrote operas, ballets, four symphonies, chamber and vocal works, and music for piano. Best known are the suites from his ballets The Spider's Feast (1913) and Bacchus and Ariadne (1931).

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