Much has been made of Roussel's late start as a composer, and his devotion to the decade-long course of study at d'Indy's Schola Cantorum, embarked upon in 1898, though his appointment as instructor of counterpoint there in 1904 (in which capacity he taught Martinu, Varèse, and Satie) is testimony to his quickness and maturity. Young Roussel had the obligatory piano lessons and played well enough to find amusement in operatic fantasies, while being called upon to accompany celebrations at his naval academy. Nor was he wholly unversed in composition when he abandoned the sea at 25 in favor of a musical career. His works list notes a Fantaisie for violin and piano and an Andante for organ, both from 1892, and both destroyed by their composer. Several other, more ambitious works were composed just after the turn of the century, including a Horn Quintet, a Violin Sonata, and a symphonic poem (Vendanges, performed under the direction of Alfred Cortot in 1905), all of which the fastidious Roussel discarded. Because he chose the suite of four piano pieces, Des heures passent, from 1898 as his Opus 1, commentators have been patronizing or outright dismissive. Roussel's biographer Basil Deane found "...nothing at all unconventional about the style of Roussel's Opus 1....This early attempt at musical impressionism does not fulfill the promise of its comprehensive title, for the student composer hardly ventures beyond the confines of a pallid and academic idiom," while Maurice Hinson noted "...some forced and pedantic writing." The usually sympathetic Wilfrid Mellers found them unequivocally "an initial, amateurish exercise." Professor Demuth, on the other hand, while allowing that "These early works will be seen to bear little relation to the mature Roussel," added, "but the germ was there." Though the pianism is generic, the first number, a combination of two pieces -- Graves, légères -- for instance, forecasts the familiar Rousellian trope of brooding rumination relieved by rhythmically bounding energy. The brief, bouncing Joyeuses seems to take its cue from Fauré's Valses-Caprices from 15 years before. The most interesting and extensive of the four, Tragiques, playing around six minutes, forecasts the mature Roussel in its sardonically elegiac mood, giving the title -- and one's expectations -- a suave send-up. If the rusticity of Champêtres was seriously intended, it is somewhat undercut by an, albeit animated, exercise in canon whose slender materials lose interest before it is half over, though it does show the fledgling composer determined to turn academic devices to frolicking jollity.
Description by Adrian Corleonis
- Graves, légères
|Solstice Records||SO 008|