Albert Roussel (1869-1937) was a French composer who spent seven years in the French Navy, before turning to music at the age of 25. He died eighty years ago today so it seems appropriate to highlight some of his key works.
Roussel’s early work was strongly influenced by impressionism, though he eventually developed a personal style. His later compositions are more formal in design and are typically exhibit a strong rhythmic drive. His most significant works are his vibrant and pictorial ballets Le festin de l’araignée, Bacchus et Ariane, and Aeneas and his four symphonies. Indeed his Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4 must rank among the finest French symphonies.
Roussel is unlikely to ever attain the popularity of Debussy or Ravel, as his work lacks sensuous appeal, but much of his work is well worth listening to. This excellent recording of the complete Bacchus et Ariane and his Symphony No. 3 available on the bargain Naxos label provides a good introduction to Roussel’s work. Stéphane Denève and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra give a good account of both pieces. Listen to the recording and you will hear quite a lot of melodic subtlety coming through the thick orchestral palette.