ALBERT ROUSSEL (1869 - 1937)
Albert Roussel, born at Tourcoing on 5 April 1869, touched on almost all the styles of his era on the way to a personal idiom. A gifted student, he was sent to Paris in 1884 and studied at the Collège Stanislas. His early career was in the French Navy, where he rose to lieutenant and visited the Near East and China. Resigning in 1894, he settled in Paris to study music in earnest.
Entering the Schola Cantorum to study with Vincent d’Indy in 1898, he took over the counterpoint class four years later and taught a generation of composers including Eric Satie, Edgard Varèse and Bohuslav Martinů. Roussel’s output falls into three main periods. From 1902–13 he absorbed the Impressionistic tendencies of such composers as Debussy and Ravel, evident in his First Symphony and choral work Evocations, arriving at an idiom of great refinement and subtlety in his ballet Le festin d’araignée.
The years of the First World War were occupied with an ambitious opera-ballet Padmâvatî, its Hindu-derived scenario a testament to his imagination and its harmonic complexity to an exploration of new musical territory. This was mined extensively in works from 1918 to 1925, notably the Second Symphony, the opera La naissance de la lyre and his Second Violin Sonata. This musical soul-searching was succeeded around 1925 by a mature idiom which, while related to European neo-Classicism, is highly personal in its subtle harmonies, intricate counterpoint and energetic rhythms. Notable works include the comic opera Le testament de la tante Caroline, the ballets Bacchus et Ariane and Aenéas, the Third and Fourth Symphonies, a setting of Psalm 80, and chamber works including the String Quartet and String Trio. This period also coincided with his growing success outside France, notably in the United States where he made a triumphal visit in 1930, but failing health gradually took its toll. Following a heart attack, he died at Royan on 23 August 1937 and was buried overlooking the sea: a composer whose music was always created for its own sake.