In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Albert Roussel

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Reference Sources
  • Historical Surveys
  • “Portrait” Profiles
  • Letters, Essays, and Other Writings
  • Studies by Roussel’s Contemporaries
  • Sixtieth Birthday Tributes
  • Memorial Tributes
  • Studies after 1937
  • Roussel and the Schola Cantorum
  • Roussel’s Students
  • Roussel and the Generation of Les Six
  • Postwar Political and Institutional Activities
  • Aesthetics
  • Style
  • Chamber and Solo Works

Music Albert Roussel
Brian Hart
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0255


“In expressing my thought clearly, I sought only to serve my art. I hope I have succeeded. That’s the only recompense I desire” (Hoérée 1938, p. 119, cited under Studies by Roussel’s Contemporaries). So spoke Albert Charles Paul Marie Roussel (b. 1869–d. 1937) near the end of his life, and most contemporaries agreed that he achieved his goal. From an unlikely beginning, he rose to become the most celebrated elder composer for the interwar generation. Born in Tourcoing in northeastern France, the composer was orphaned by age eight and raised by relatives. After a seven-year naval career, he began serious music lessons at age twenty-five. Following private lessons in counterpoint and harmony with Eugène Gigout (b. 1844–d. 1925), Roussel enrolled in the composition program taught by Vincent d’Indy (b. 1851–d. 1931) at the Schola Cantorum; in 1902, while still a student, he became its Professor of Counterpoint. In 1908 he married Blanche Preisach (b. 1880–d. 1962), and for their honeymoon they took a four-month journey to India and the Far East. He resigned from the Schola in 1914, served as a transport officer in the First World War, and after hostilities ended he and his wife moved to Varengeville-sur-mer on the Norman coast (the sea entranced Roussel throughout his life). His musical voice changed markedly over his career: from a prewar style that combined scholiste methods of construction with chords and colors drawn from Debussy and India (to 1918), he moved to a harmonically astringent language (1918–1926), and ultimately to a personal neoclassicism that united austere “classical” structures and nondescriptive content with “romantic” feeling expressed through harmony and rhythm. As Nicole Labelle puts it in her article on Roussel for the New Grove Dictionary, “He forged a personal, unique style in a modern idiom resting on the foundations of traditional music” (Labelle 2001, cited under General Overviews and Reference Sources). Commentators repeatedly praised Roussel’s “independent spirit” that “constantly renews itself.” The price of such individuality was that Roussel was often more respected than heard; as his former student Jean Cartan testily wrote, “The public doesn’t know Albert Roussel—or worse, it thinks it knows him and is grossly mistaken—and this state of affairs is entirely the fault of our esteemed artists [messieurs les artistes]” (Labelle 1985, p. 21, cited under Roussel’s Students). Nevertheless, Roussel enjoyed the deep respect of many of his fellow musicians, both in France and abroad—as the items in Memorial Tributes demonstrate—and continues to do so today.

General Overviews and Reference Sources

Few modern sources outside of the standard reference dictionaries consider Roussel at any length. Labelle 2001 and Rosteck 2001 present in-depth discussions, both written by specialists on the composer (especially Labelle). Follet 1988 is a substantial but deeply flawed bibliography, disfigured by multiple citation errors. Labelle 1992 provides essential information for each individual piece. Miller 2001 lists and annotates the vast holdings of Rousseliana by André Peeters in Belgium. Lesure 1969 is the annotated catalogue for a centenary exhibit at the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris. Roussel appears in several articles in the Encyclopédie de la musique et dictionnaire du Conservatoire; see Charles Koechlin’s essay on contemporary harmony and Gabriel Pierné and Henry Woollett’s survey of orchestration (Koechlin 1925 and Pierné and Woollett 1925, both cited under Style). Two essays in Kelkel 1989 (cited under Studies after 1937) are relevant to this section: Daniel Kawka surveys and evaluates the principal French-language literature on Roussel to 1989, and Virginie Pouchon’s catalogue is particularly noteworthy for its consideration of unpublished material.

  • Follet, Robert. Albert Roussel: A Bio-Bibliography. Bio-Bibliographies in Music 19. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

    Works list, discography, and bibliography (books, articles, reviews, program notes, and writings by Roussel) through 1986. Its value is badly undermined by a distressing number of careless mistakes in spelling, dates, and page numbers of citations. Use with caution and cross-check citations with Labelle 2001, Rosteck 2001, and Labelle 1987 (the latter cited under Letters, Essays, and Other Writings).

  • Labelle, Nicole. Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre d’Albert Roussel. Publications d’Histoire de l’art et d’archéologie de l’Université Catholique de Louvain 78. Musicologica Neolovaniensia Studia 6. Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium: Départment d’Archéologie et d’Histoire de l’Art, Collège Érasme, 1992.

    Indispensable thematic catalogue, arranged chronologically by opus number (1–75), with juvenilia in an appendix. Each entry includes incipits, date of composition, manuscript locations, scoring, editions and arrangements, information about texts and scenarios for vocal and stage works, first performance, bibliography, discography, and miscellaneous comments as relevant.

  • Labelle, Nicole. “Albert Roussel.” In Grove Music Online. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Good summary by one of the leading specialists on Roussel. Available online by subscription.

  • Lesure, François, ed. Albert Roussel, 1869–1937. Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1969.

    Annotated catalogue for a centenary exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale. Contains 100 items from the library as well as private collections, including letters, programs, manuscripts, photographs, and other documents. Includes excerpts from the letters. Concludes with a list of music manuscripts donated to the library by Mme. Roussel in 1955.

  • Miller, Catherine. Fonds “Les Amis belges d’Albert Roussel” (Collection André Peeters). Edited by Yves Lenoir. Collections et fonds de la section de la Musique 1. Brussels: Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, 2001.

    André Peeters, founder of the society Les Amis belges d’Albert Roussel, amassed a highly valuable personal collection of 577 documents, including musical manuscripts, 233 mostly unpublished letters by and to Roussel (both autographs and photocopies), recordings, and many other items. Each entry has an annotation and catalogue number.

  • Rosteck, Jens. “Albert Roussel.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 2d ed. Edited by Ludwig Finscher, 546–554. Personenteil 14. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter Verlag, 2001.

    Extensive study by a German specialist on Roussel. Summary of life, aesthetics, and style.

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