Concert Notes

Albert Roussel’s “Bacchus and Ariane” Suite No. 2 

Notes by TŌN trumpet player Diana Lopez

The Composer
Born in Tourcoing, France in 1869, Albert Roussel worked in many different music styles of his era, looking for his own voice. As a gifted boy, he was sent to study in Paris in 1884. During his early career, he worked in the French Navy, but after resigning in 1894, he started studying composition in Paris with Vicent d’Indy at Schola Cantorum. Years later, he became professor of composition at the same school and had some remarkable students like Erik Satie, Edgard Varèse, and Bohuslav Martinů. Roussel’s music has three main periods. From 1902 to 1913 he took in the Impressionistic tendencies of composers like Debussy and Ravel. The second period, from 1918 to 1925, was an exploration of new harmonic complexity. From 1925 to the end of his life in 1937 was his third period, reaching a mature personal style with subtle harmonies and complex counterpoint and rhythms.

The Story
It was in the last period that Roussel composed the ballet Bacchus and Ariane. It was composed to a scenario by A. Hermant in 1930. The complete ballet follows the Neoclassic tendencies of Stravinsky and Prokofiev, but with a personal characteristic that is the symphonic structure. The suites were written by the composer after the success of the ballet, and both of them were premiered in Paris. In the myth of Bacchus and Ariadne, the heroine’s father punishes her after she helps Theseus to escape from prison. Both of them are sent to the island of Naxos, where Theseus abandons her. Feeling sad, she climbs to the top of the island and jumps. At that moment, the god Bacchus saves her and makes her forget Theseus. They marry and she ascends to Mount Olympia and becomes a goddess.