Article

Albert Roussel

Brian Hart

in Music


Published online February 2019 | e-ISBN: 9780199757824 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0255

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“In expressing my thought clearly, I sought only to serve my art. I hope I have succeeded. That’s the only recompense I desire” (Hoérée 1938, p. 119, cited under Studies by Roussel’s Contemporaries). So spoke Albert Charles Paul Marie Roussel (b. 1869–d. 1937) near the end of his life, and most contemporaries agreed that he achieved his goal. From an unlikely beginning, he rose to become the most celebrated elder composer for the interwar generation. Born in Tourcoing in northeastern France, the composer was orphaned by age eight and raised by relatives. After a seven-year naval career, he began serious music lessons at age twenty-five. Following private lessons in counterpoint and harmony with Eugène Gigout (b. 1844–d. 1925), Roussel enrolled in the composition program taught by Vincent d’Indy (b. 1851–d. 1931) at the Schola Cantorum; in 1902, while still a student, he became its Professor of Counterpoint. In 1908 he married Blanche Preisach (b. 1880–d. 1962), and for their honeymoon they took a four-month journey to India and the Far East. He resigned from the Schola in 1914, served as a transport officer in the First World War, and after hostilities ended he and his wife moved to Varengeville-sur-mer on the Norman coast (the sea entranced Roussel throughout his life). His musical voice changed markedly over his career: from a prewar style that combined scholiste methods of construction with chords and colors drawn from Debussy and India (to 1918), he moved to a harmonically astringent language (1918–1926), and ultimately to a personal neoclassicism that united austere “classical” structures and nondescriptive content with “romantic” feeling expressed through harmony and rhythm. As Nicole Labelle puts it in her article on Roussel for the New Grove Dictionary, “He forged a personal, unique style in a modern idiom resting on the foundations of traditional music” (Labelle 2001, cited under General Overviews and Reference Sources). Commentators repeatedly praised Roussel’s “independent spirit” that “constantly renews itself.” The price of such individuality was that Roussel was often more respected than heard; as his former student Jean Cartan testily wrote, “The public doesn’t know Albert Roussel—or worse, it thinks it knows him and is grossly mistaken—and this state of affairs is entirely the fault of our esteemed artists [messieurs les artistes]” (Labelle 1985, p. 21, cited under Roussel’s Students). Nevertheless, Roussel enjoyed the deep respect of many of his fellow musicians, both in France and abroad—as the items in Memorial Tributes demonstrate—and continues to do so today.

Article.  23741 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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