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Luca Casagrande – “Odes anacréontiques” Op. 31-32 – Albert Roussel (1869 – 1937)

by Luca

Luca Casagrande – “Odes anacréontiques” Op. 31-32 – Albert Roussel (1869 – 1937).

In 1929, one critic described Roussel’s search for his own voice: “Albert Roussel for a long period sought his true self among varied and contradictory influences. He seemed to waver between the tendencies of Cesar Franck and Vincent d’Indy and those of Claude Debussy. The violin sonata, the trio, the Poème de la Forêt derived more or less directly from the Franckian school, the Festin de l’Araignée and the Evocations from Debussyan impressionism; and yet the hand of Albert Roussel alone could have written this music, at once so subtle and so firmly fixed in its design….With Padmâvatî, the new Roussel begins to realize is possibilities and his individual technique….Then came works of perfect homogeneity and notable originality. The composer no longer is seeking his way—he has found it. The Prélude pour une Fête de Printemps, the suite in F, the concerto, and finally the Psalm No. 80 are the masterpieces which mark the last stage of this great artist.”
Arturo Toscanini included the suite from the ballet Le festin de l’araignée in one of his broadcast concerts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Rene Leibowitz recorded that suite in 1952 with the Paris Philharmonic, and Georges Prêtre recorded it with the Orchestre National de France for EMI in 1984.
One brief assessment of his career says: “Roussel will never attain the popularity of Debussy or Ravel, as his work lacks sensuous appeal….yet he was an important and compelling French composer. Upon repeated listening, his music becomes more and more intriguing because of its subtle rhythmic vitality. He can be alternately brilliant, astringent, tender, biting, dry, and humorous. His splendid Suite for Piano (Op. 14, 1911) shows his mastery of old dance forms. The ballet scores Le Festin de l’araignée (The Spider’s Feast Op. 17, 1913) and Bacchus et Ariane (Op. 43, 1931) are vibrant and pictorial, while the Third and Fourth Symphonies are among the finest contributions to the French symphony.”
One 21st-century critic, in the course of discussing the Third Symphony, wrote: “For the general public, Roussel remains almost famous, his work just beyond the pool of repertory universally drawn from. His music, said another way, walks the line between the memorable and the impossible to forget. The writing sets unrelated keys against one another but eventually seeks strong tonal centers; in other words, it can bark and growl but in the end wags its tail. The Vivace movement is a carnival of exuberant energies. Roussel was more than just an anti-19th-century dissident.”


The wars of Thebes are your delight,
And his the Phrygian shouts in fight —
Whilst I my thraldom fond renew,
Though foot, nor horse, nor fleet pursue ;
But glances from bewitching eyes,
At every turn my heart surprise.


Earth drinks, that all things gives to birth,
And trees imbibe their juice from earth ;
The waves the bathing breeze absorb,
The sun, the sea, the moon his orb.
Dear comrades, why with me dispute,
I’m willing to be drunk and mute ?


Tantalus his daughter mourn’d,
Once to Phrygian marble turn’d ;
Pandion’s offspring, o’er his head,
Swallow-like, a season, fled.
I would rather prove a glass
Always to behold my lass ;
Or her tunick I would prove,
With her everywhere to move ;
Fain dissolve in water thin,
Thus to bathe her lovely skin ;
Or, as ointment, would I shed
Grateful fragrance o’er her head ;
Or, a zone, her waist would press,
Pearl, her bosom chaste caress;
Or a sandal even prove,
If but trampled by my love.


Bacchus, ent’ring, lulls all care,
Croesus’ treasures then I share,
Sweetly then desire to sing,
Crown’d with ivy revelling ;
And though on my couch reclin’d,
Ramhle kingdoms in my mind.
Haste, my lad, I’m bent on drink,
Fill my goblet to the brink.
How much better on my bed
Sprawling to lie drunk than dead !


Fly me not ; my locks though grey,
Nor in Spring’s blithe beauty gay
O’er your form her blooms while shed
Flout the honours of my head.
Looks, in wreaths, how fair the sight,
Roses twining lilies white !


Running, in a dream, methought
Wings upon my shoulders wrought.
Cupid, though a leaden weight,
Clogg’d his lively little feet,
Came at such a spanking rate,
That my capture was complete.
What implies this curious dream ?
But, a thousand frolics past,
Love shall seize my heart’s esteem.
One strong passion hold me fast.