Roussel, Albert (Charles Paul Marie)
Roussel, Albert (Charles Paul Marie)
Roussel, Albert (Charles Paul Marie) , outstanding French composer and teacher; b. Tourcoing, Département du Nord, April 5, 1869; d. Royan, Aug. 23, 1937. Orphaned as a child, he was educated by his grandfather, mayor of his native town, and after the grandfather’s death, by his aunt. He studied academic subjects at the Coll. Stanislas in Paris and music with the organist Stoltz; then studied mathematics in preparation for entering the Naval Academy; at the age of 18, he began his training in the navy; from 1889 to Aug. 1890 he was a member of the crew of the frigate Iphigénie, sailing to Indochina. This voyage was of great importance to Roussel, since it opened for him a world of oriental culture and art, which became one of the chief sources of his musical inspiration. He later sailed on the cruiser Dévastation; received a leave of absence for reasons of health, and spent some time in Tunis; was then stationed in Cherbourg, and began to compose there. In 1893 he was sent once more to Indochina. He resigned from the navy in 1894 and went to Paris, where he began to study music seriously with Gigout. In 1898 he entered the Schola Cantorum in Paris as a pupil of d’Indy; continued this study until 1907, when he was already 38 years old, but at the same time he was entrusted with a class in counterpoint, which he conducted at the Schola Cantorum from 1902 to 1914; among his students were Satie, Golestan, Le Flem, Roland-Manuel, Lioncourt, and Varèse. In 1909 Roussel and his wife, Blanche Preisach-Roussel, undertook a voyage to India, where he became acquainted with the legend of the queen Padmavati, which he selected as a subject for his famous opera-ballet. His choral sym. Les Evocations was also inspired by this tour. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Roussel applied for active service in the navy but was rejected, and volunteered as an ambulance driver. After the Armistice of 1918, he settled in Normandy and devoted himself to composition. In the autumn of 1930 he visited the U.S.
Roussel began his work under the influence of French Impressionism, with its dependence on exotic moods and poetic association. However, the sense of formal design asserted itself in his symphonic works; his Suite (1926) signalizes a transition toward neo-Classicism; the thematic development is vigorous, and the rhythms are clearly delineated, despite some asymmetrical progressions; the orchestration, too, is in the Classical tradition. Roussel possessed a keen sense of the theater; he was capable of fine characterization of exotic or mythological subjects, but also knew how to depict humorous situations in lighter works.
(all 1st perf. in Paris unless otherwise given): DRAMATIC: Le marchand de sable qui passe, incidental music (Le Havre, Dec. 16, 1908); Le festin de l’araignée, ballet- pantomime (1912; April 3, 1913); Padmâvati, opera-ballet (1914–18; June 1, 1923); La naissance de la lyre, lyric opera (1923–24, July 1, 1925); Sarabande, ballet music (June 16, 1927); Bacchus et Ariane, ballet (1930; May 22, 1931; 2 orch. suites: No. 1, April 2, 1933; No. 2, Feb. 2, 1934); Le testament de la tante Caroline, opera-bouffe (1932–33; Olomouc, Nov. 14, 1936); Aenéas, ballet (Brussels, July 31, 1935); Prelude to Act 2 of Le quatorze juillet, incidental music (July 14, 1936); Elpénor for Flute and String Quartet, radio music (n.d.). ORCH.: Marche nuptiale (1893); Résurrection, symphonie prélude (May 17, 1904); Vendanges (1904; April 18, 1905; not extant); 4 syms.: No. 1, Le poème de la forêt (1904–06; 1st complete perf., Brussels, March 22, 1908), No. 2 (1919–21; March 4, 1922), No. 3 (1929–30; Boston, Oct. 24, 1930), and No. 4 (1934; Oct. 19, 1935); Evocations (1910–11; May 18, 1912); Pour une fête de printemps, symphonie poem (1920; Oct. 29, 1921); Suite (1926; Boston, Jan. 21, 1927); Concerto for Small Orch. (1926–27; May 5, 1927); Piano Concerto (1927; June 7, 1928); Little Suite (April 11, 1929); A Glorious Day for Military Band (1932; July 1933); Sinfonietta for Strings (Nov. 19, 1934); Rapsodie flamande (Brussels, Dec. 12, 1936); Cello Concertino (1936; Feb. 6, 1937). CHAMBER: Fantaisie for Violin and Piano (1892; not extant); Andante for Violin, Viola, Cello, and Organ (1892; not extant); Horn Quintet (Feb. 2, 1901); 1 unnumbered violin sonata (May 5, 1902); 2 numbered violin sonatas: No. 1 (1907–08; Oct. 9, 1908; rev. 1931) and No. 2 (1924; Oct. 15, 1925); Piano Trio (1902; April 14, 1904; rev. 1927); Divertissement for Wind Quintet and Piano (April 10, 1906); Impromptu for Harp (April 6, 1919); Fanfare pour un sacre païen for Brass and Drums (1921; April 25, 1929); joueurs de flûte for Flute and Piano (1924; Jan. 17, 1928); Segovia for Guitar (Madrid, April 25, 1925); Sérénade for Flute, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Harp (Oct. 15, 1925); Duo for Bassoon and Cello or Double Bass (1925; Dec. 23, 1940); Trio for Flute, Viola, and Cello (Oct. 29, 1929); String Quartet (1931–32; Brussels, Dec. 9, 1932); Andante and Scherzo for Flute and Piano (Milan, Dec. 17, 1934); Pipe for Flageolet and Piano (1934); String Trio (1937); Andante for Oboe, Clarinet, and Bassoon (Nov. 30, 1937). KEYBOARD: Piano: Des heures passant (1898); Conte à la poupée (1904); Rustiques (1904–06; Feb. 17, 1906); Suite (1909–10; Jan. 28, 1911); Sonatine (1912; Jan. 18, 1913); Petit canon perpétuel (1913); Doute (1919; May 5, 1920); L’accueil des muses (in memoriam Debussy) (1920; Jan. 24, 1921); Prélude and Fugue (1932–34; Feb. 23, 1935); 3 pieces (1933; April 14, 1934). Organ: Prélude and Fughetta (1929; May 18, 1930). VOCAL: 2 madrigals for Chorus (1897; May 3, 1898); Deux mélodies for Voice and Piano or Orch. (1919; orch. version, Dec. 9, 1928); Madrigal aux muses for Women’s Voices (1923; Feb. 6, 1924); Deux poèmes de Ronsard for Voice and Flute (No. 1, May 15, 1924; No. 2, May 28, 1924); Le bardit de francs for Men’s Voices, Brass, and Percussion ad libitum (1926; Strasbourg, April 21, 1928); Psalm LXXX for Tenor, Chorus, and Orch. (1928; April 25, 1929); many songs for Voice and Piano. N. Labelle ed. a Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre d’Albert Roussel (Louvain-la-Neuve, 1992).
L. Vuillemin, A. R. et son oeuvre (Paris, 1924); A. Hoérée, A. R.(Paris, 1938); N. Demuth, A. R.: A Study (London, 1947); R. Bernard, A. R.: Sa vie, son oeuvre (Paris, 1948); M. Pincherle, A. R. (Geneva, 1957); B. Deane, A. R. (London, 1961); J. Eddins, The Symphonie Music of A. R.(diss., Fia. State Univ., 1967); A. Surchamp, A. R. (Paris, 1967); R. Follet, A. R.: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1988); M. Kelkel and M. Cusin, Colloque international A. R., 1869–1937 (1987): Lyon, France and Saint- Etienne, Loire, France (Paris, 1989).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
Roussel, Albert (Charles Paul Marie)
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.
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).
Deane, Basil, Albert Roussel, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980, 1961.
Demuth, Norman, Albert Roussel: a study, Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1979. □