Roussel, Albert

France is basically a rural, earth bound country. And yet, in between 1870 and 1930 there actually existed a fascination for distant horizons. Debussy's La Mer can be considered as a symbolic illustration of the times. In a more practical manner, three sailors, Jean Cras, Antoine Mariotte and Albert Roussel followed double careers, being at the same time sailors and musicians. Their generation, humiliated by the 1870 defeat and fascinated by or opposed to Wagner's increasing influence, were in great need of escaping, in a physical and geographical manner as well as in a spiritual and artistic one. Whereas Jean Cras ended his career as a rear-admiral, Albert Roussel chose music very early in life and resigned from the Navy in 1894. He lost his parents at a very young age: his father died in 1869 when he was but one year old, and he lost his mother in 1877. Happily he came from a rich industrial family of Tourcoing and was not abandoned. In the Stanislas College where he prepared to enter the Navy, an old music teacher called Stolz made him discover and love the great classical masters: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. Thanks to Mariotte, he met Vincent d'Indy in 1898, after having quit the Navy. The latter gave him his training and soon offered him a post as teacher of counterpoint, in 1902. He became well known rather quickly and a festival dedicated to his works was held as early as 1909. In 1913 the success of Le Festin de l'Araignée, ballet music on a libretto of Gilbert de Voisin brought him to the rank of an important composer. Although judged "unfit", he managed to take part in the war between 1914 and 1918, first as an agent of the Red Cross, then as a volunteer admitted in the motor transport column that supplied the front line. He was discharged in 1918 and could finish composing Padmavâti which he had started in 1914. This ballet-opera which is based on a poem of Louis Laloy, is partly inspired by trips to the East and the Far East. From then on, his work and personality were more firmly established. Scorning past fashions, indifferent to contemporary ones, Albert Roussel based his compositions on the austerity and rigor of counterpoint rather than on the easy charms of melody and harmony. The fact that he remained faithful to his point of view as well as the authenticity of his evolution make of him one of the rare composers who, although remarked before 1914, did not turn to the playful neoclassical style of which Stravinsky is the most caracteristic representative.
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