About this Piece
Almost an exact contemporary of Maurice Ravel, Albert Roussel developed an individual voice within the expected influence of French Impressionism and neo-Classicism. Although Roussel had his first music lessons from his mother, who died when he was eight years old, he made an early career in the navy, sailing to the Middle East, India, and Asia. He was 29 when he finally entered the Schola Cantorum, studying with Vincent D’Indy. He subsequently taught the counterpoint class there, where his pupils included Edgard Varèse and Erik Satie.
By the beginning of World War I, Roussel had composed many songs and chamber works, several orchestral pieces, and a very successful ballet. He had been dropped from the naval reserve due to his poor health, but with the outbreak of the war, he joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver and then the army as an artillery lieutenant. (He was invalided out of the service in January 1918.) After the war and much reflection, Roussel took a new direction in his music, toward a more austere, personal style.
The Op. 30 Serenade for flute, harp, and string trio makes an attractive case for that style. “I have always considered the evolution of style an expansion, a generalization, within ever wider limits, of the sonorous play long familiar to our ears and our musical feeling,” Roussel wrote to Nadia Boulanger the year before he composed the Serenade in 1925. Its outer movements are fleet, rhythmically insistent dances, sprightly and cheerful in the Allegro, manic and extravagantly colorful in the Presto. Between them is a languid, lyrical exploration of all the sonorous possibilities and combinations of these instruments, in which Roussel’s expertise in counterpoint becomes apparent. —John Henken