Albert Roussel

Composer’s full name: Albert Charles Paul Marie Roussel
Date of Birth: 05 April 1869
Date of Death: 23 August 1937
Nationality: French
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century, Impressionism, Neo=Classical
Contribution(s): Roussel was a French composer. He spent seven years as a midshipman, turned to music as an adult, and became one of the most prominent French composers of the interwar period. His early works were strongly influenced by the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, while he later turned toward neoclassicism.

Biography: Life: Albert (Charles Paul Marie) Roussel was an outstanding French composer and teacher. Orphaned as a child, he was educated by his grandfather, mayor of his native town, and after the grandfather’s death, by his aunt. He studied academic subjects at the College Stanislas in Paris and music with the organist Stoltz; then studied mathematics in preparation for entering the Naval Academy; at the age of 18, he began his training in the navy; from 1889 to August 1890 he was a member of the crew of the frigate Iphigénie, sailing to Indochina. This voyage was of great importance to Roussel, since it opened for him a world of oriental culture and art, which became one of the chief sources of his musical inspiration. He later sailed on the cruiser Devastation; received a leave of absence for reasons of health, and spent some time in Tunis; was then stationed in Cherbourg, and began to compose there. In 1893 he was sent once more to Indochina.

Albert Roussel resigned from the navy in 1894 and went to Paris, where he began to study music seriously with Eugène Gigout. In 1898 he entered the Schola Cantorum in Paris as a pupil of Vincent d’Indy; continued this study until 1907, when he was already 38 years old, but at the same time he was entrusted with a class in counterpoint, which he conducted at the Schola Cantorum from 1902 to 1914; among his students were Satie, Golestan, Le Flem, Roland-Manuel, Lioncourt, and the young Edgard Varèse. In 1909 Roussel and his wife, Blanche Preisach-Roussel, undertook a voyage to India, where he became acquainted with the legend of the queen Padmavati, which he selected as a subject for his famous opera-ballet. His choral symphony Les Evocations was also inspired by this tour.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Albert Roussel applied for active service in the navy but was rejected, and volunteered as an ambulance driver. After the Armistice of 1918, he settled in Normandy and devoted himself to composition. In the autumn of 1930 he visited the USA. Another student of Roussel’s was Bohuslav Martinů (after the war and his own apprenticeship, and starting in 1923). Roussel died in the town of Royan, (Charente-Maritime department), in western France, in 1937, the same year that his countrymen Maurice Ravel and Gabriel Pierné died.

Music: Albert Roussel began his work under the influence of French Impressionism, with its dependence on exotic moods and poetic association. He eventually found a personal style which was more formal in design, with a strong rhythmic drive, and with a more distinct liking for functional tonality than is evident in the work of his more famous contemporaries (for instance Debussy, Ravel, Satie, and Igor Stravinsky). The sense of formal design asserted itself in his symphonic works; his Suite (1926) signalizes a transition toward neo-Classicism; the thematic development is vigorous, and the rhythms are clearly delineated, despite some asymmetrical progressions; the orchestration, too, is in the Classical tradition. Roussel possessed a keen sense of the theater; he was capable of fine characterization of exotic or mythological subjects, but also knew how to depict humorous sitUations in lighter works.

Image result for Albert RousselAlbert Roussel’s training at the Schola Cantorum, with its emphasis on rigorous academic models such as Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and J.S. Bach, left its mark on his mature style, which is characterized by contrapuntal textures. In comparison with the subtle and nuanced style of other French composers like Gabriel Fauré or Claude Debussy, Roussel’s orchestration is rather heavy. While the stylistic and orchestral aesthetic of so-called “French” music was one which Roussel did not fully share, it is nevertheless true that Roussel was never a mere copyist of Teutonic models. Certainly, in contrast with the sound of the German romantic orchestral tradition (such as Anton Bruckner or Gustav Mahler), Roussel’s manner could hardly be called heavy at all.

Roussel was also interested in jazz, and wrote a piano-vocal composition entitled Jazz dans la nuit, similar in its inspiration to other jazz-inspired works such as “Blues” second movement of Maurice Ravel’s Violin Sonata, or Darius Milhaud’s La Création du Monde).

Roussel’s most important works are the ballets Le festin de l’araignée, Bacchus et Ariane, and Aeneas and the four symphonies (of which the Third, in G minor, and the Fourth, in A major, are highly regarded and epitomize his mature neoclassical style). His other works include numerous ballets, orchestral suites, a piano concerto, a concertino for cello and orchestra, a psalm setting for chorus and orchestra, incidental music for the theatre, and much chamber music, solo piano music, and songs.

Arturo Toscanini included the suite from the ballet Le festin de l’araignée in one of his broadcast concerts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. René Leibowitz recorded this suite in 1952 with the Paris Philharmonic, and Georges Prêtre recorded this same music with the Orchestre National de France for EMI in 1984.


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Benjamin Britten

Composer: Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten of Aldeburgh OM CH
Date of Birth: 22 November 1913
Date of Death: 04 December 1976
Nationality: English
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century, Neoclassicism, Neotonality
Contribution(s): Britten was an English composer, conductor and pianist. He was a central figure of 20th-century British classical music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. His best-known works include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962) and the orchestral showpiece The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945).

Biography: Born in Suffolk, the son of a dentist, Britten showed talent from an early age. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London and privately with the composer Frank Bridge. Britten first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy was Born in 1934. With the premiere of Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to international fame. Over the next 28 years, he wrote 14 more operas, establishing himself as one of the leading 20th-century composers in the genre. In addition to large-scale operas for Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden, he wrote “chamber operas” for small forces, suitable for performance in venues of modest size. Among the best known of these is The Turn of the Screw (1954). Recurring themes in his operas include the struggle of an outsider against a hostile society and the corruption of innocence.

Britten’s other works range from orchestral to choral, solo vocal, chamber and instrumental as well as film music. He took a great interest in writing music for children and amateur performers, including the opera Noye’s Fludde, a Missa Brevis, and the song collection Friday Afternoons. He often composed with particular performers in mind. His most frequent and important muse was his personal and professional partner, the tenor Peter Pears; others included Kathleen Ferrier, Jennifer Vyvyan, Janet Baker, Dennis Brain, Julian Bream, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Mstislav Rostropovich. Britten was a celebrated pianist and conductor, performing many of his own works in concert and on record. He also performed and recorded works by others, such as Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, Mozart symphonies, and song cycles by Schubert and Schumann.

Together with Pears and the librettist and producer Eric Crozier, Britten founded the annual Aldeburgh Festival in 1948, and he was responsible for the creation of Snape Maltings concert hall in 1967. In his last year, he was the first composer to be given a life peerage.

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Joaquín Rodrigo

Composer: Joaquín Rodrigo Vidre, 1st Marquis of the Gardens of Aranjuez
Date of Birth: 22 November 1901
Date of Death: 06 July 1999
Nationality: Spanish
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century, neoclassical, folk music influence
Contribution(s): Rodrigo was a Spanish composer and a virtuoso pianist.

Biography: Rodrigo was born in Sagunto, Valencia, and completely lost his sight at the age of three after contracting diphtheria. He began to study solfège, piano and violin at the age of eight; harmony and composition from the age of 16. Although distinguished by having raised the Spanish guitar to dignity as a universal concert instrument and best known for his guitar music, he never mastered the instrument himself. He wrote his compositions in Braille, which was transcribed for publication.

Rodrigo studied music under Francisco Antich in Valencia and under Paul Dukas at the École Normale de Musique in Paris. After briefly returning to Spain, he went to Paris again to study musicology, first under Maurice Emmanuel and then under André Pirro. His first published compositions date from 1923. In 1943 he received Spain’s National Prize for Orchestra for Cinco piezas infantiles (“Five Children’s Pieces”), based on his earlier composition of the same piece for two pianos, premiered by Ricardo Viñes. From 1947 Rodrigo was a professor of music history, holding the Manuel de Falla Chair of Music in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, at Complutense University of Madrid. Notable students include Yüksel Koptagel, Turkish composer and pianist.

His most famous work, Concierto de Aranjuez, was composed in 1939 in Paris for the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza. In later life he and his wife declared that it was written as a response to the miscarriage of their first child. It is a concerto for guitar and orchestra. The central adagio movement is one of the most recognizable in 20th-century classical music, featuring the interplay of guitar with cor anglais. This movement was later adapted by the jazz arranger Gil Evans for Miles Davis’ 1960 album “Sketches of Spain”. The Concerto was adapted by the composer himself for Harp and Orchestra at the request of Nicanor Zabaleta and dedicated to Zabaleta.

The success of this concerto led to commissions from a number of prominent soloists, including Nicanor Zabaleta, for whom Rodrigo dedicated his Concierto serenata for Harp and Orchestra, Julian Lloyd Webber, for whom Rodrigo composed his Concierto como un divertimento for cello and orchestra, and James Galway, for whom Rodrigo composed his Concierto pastoral for flute and orchestra. In 1954 Rodrigo composed Fantasía para un gentilhombre at the request of Andrés Segovia. His Concierto Andaluz, for four guitars and orchestra, was commissioned by Celedonio Romero for himself and his three sons.

None of Rodrigo’s works, however, achieved the popular and critical success of the Concierto de Aranjuez and the Fantasia para un gentilhombre. These two works are very often paired in recordings.

He was awarded Spain’s highest award for composition, the Premio Nacional de Música, in 1983. On 30 December 1991 Rodrigo was raised into the Spanish nobility by King Juan Carlos I with the hereditary title of Marqués de los Jardines de Aranjuez (English: Marquis of the Gardens of Aranjuez). He received the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award—Spain’s highest civilian honor—in 1996. He was named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1998.

He married Victoria Kamhi, a Turkish-born pianist whom he had met in Paris, on 19 January 1933, in Valencia. Their daughter, Cecilia, was born on 27 January 1941. Rodrigo died in 1999 in Madrid at the age of 97, and his daughter succeeded him as Marquesa de los Jardines de Aranjuez. Joaquín Rodrigo and his wife Victoria are buried at the cemetery at Aranjuez.

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Aaron Copland

Composer: Aaron Copland
Date of Birth: November 14, 1900
Date of Death: December 2, 1990
Nationality: American
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century, neoclassical, folk-influenced, jazz-influenced, early twelve-tone, later serialism
Contribution(s): Copland was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later a conductor of his own and other American music. Copland was referred to by his peers and critics as “the Dean of American Composers.” The open, slowly changing harmonies in much of his music are typical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit. He is best known for the works he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s in a deliberately accessible style often referred to as “populist” and which the composer labeled his “vernacular” style.[3] Works in this vein include the ballets Appalachian SpringBilly the Kid and Rodeo, his Fanfare for the Common Man and Third Symphony. In addition to his ballets and orchestral works, he produced music in many other genres including chamber music, vocal works, opera and film scores.

After some initial studies with composer Rubin Goldmark, Copland traveled to Paris, where he first studied with Isidor Philipp and Paul Vidal, then with noted pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. He studied three years with Boulanger, whose eclectic approach to music inspired his own broad taste. Determined upon his return to the U.S. to make his way as a full-time composer, Copland gave lecture-recitals, wrote works on commission and did some teaching and writing. He found composing orchestral music in the modernist style he had adapted abroad a financially contradictory approach, particularly in light of the Great Depression. He shifted in the mid-1930s to a more accessible musical style which mirrored the German idea of Gebrauchsmusik (“music for use”), music that could serve utilitarian and artistic purposes. During the Depression years, he traveled extensively to Europe, Africa, and Mexico, formed an important friendship with Mexican composer Carlos Chávez and began composing his signature works.

During the late 1940s, Copland became aware that Stravinsky and other fellow composers had begun to study Arnold Schoenberg‘s use of twelve-tone (serial) techniques. After he had been exposed to the works of French composer Pierre Boulez, he incorporated serial techniques into his Piano Quartet (1950), Piano Fantasy (1957), Connotations for orchestra (1961) and Inscape for orchestra (1967). Unlike Schoenberg, Copland used his tone rows in much the same fashion as his tonal material—as sources for melodies and harmonies, rather than as complete statements in their own right, except for crucial events from a structural point of view. From the 1960s onward, Copland’s activities turned more from composing to conducting. He became a frequent guest conductor of orchestras in the U.S. and the UK and made a series of recordings of his music, primarily for Columbia Records.

Biography: 

Life: Early years   |   Study in Paris   |   1925 to 1935   |   1935 to 1950   |   1950s and 1960s   |   Later years   |   Personal life

Music: Influences   |   Early works   |   Populist works   |   Film scores   |   Later works   |   Selected works   |   Film   |   Written works   |   In popular culture

Positions: Critic, writer, teacher   |   Conductor   |    Legacy   |   Awards   |   Notable students

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