Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

A History and Analysis of Albert Roussel's a Glorious Day, Op. 48

Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

A History and Analysis of Albert Roussel's a Glorious Day, Op. 48

Article excerpt

In the early twentieth century, established composers rarely wrote serious concert music specifically for the wind band. Notwithstanding, French composer Albert Roussel (1869-1937) composed A Glorious Day, op. 48 in 1932. To say it has had an uncelebrated history would be an understatement. Since its initial publication in 1933 by Durand et Cie in Paris, it has never been reprinted. It has been recorded commercially only twice.1 In Frank Battisti's book outlining the evolution of literature for the 20'h century wind band, it was not identified.2 Even Edwin Franko Goldman, who premiered the work and for whom the work was dedicated, programmed it only once more in over 20 years after its premiere.3 Despite its obscurity, it is an important work steeped in a unique French compositional style of its day. It is worthy of performance not only for historical interest, but for its artistic value. What follows is a brief history of the composer and his music, a formal analysis of the described work, and suggestions for making subsequent performances of the work musically successful and, optimistically, more frequent.

A Biographical Sketch

Albert Roussel's career in music was circuitous. Although he received some piano lessons as a youngster, his childhood was only peripherally musical. His piano teachers enabled him to pursue music enthusiastically. And this he did; but only as an amateur. He entered the Collège Stanislas in Paris studying rhetoric and in 1887, began a career with the French Navy. He graduated from a naval academy and prepared for a life at sea. While in the navy, he found himself playing piano for the officers and occasionally tried his hand at composition. He was promoted to the rank of naval officer and in command of a torpedo boat stationed near China and Thailand when his health grew poor. He resigned his commission in 1894 but he never lost his love for the sea.

Now a civilian, Roussel showed his compositions to Julien Koszul, director of the Roubaix Conservatoire in Toulon. Koszul recognised Roussel's talent and encouraged him to seek out Eugène Gigout, the famous Parisian organist. Roussel was too old to enter the Paris Conservatoire so he studied the music of the master composers with Gigout. In 1896 he entered the new Scola Cantorum, a school founded by Vincent d'lndy and created to oppose the staid practices of the French Conservatoire. By 1902, Roussel became professor of counterpoint at the Scola. He included Erik Satie and Edgar Varèse among his pupils. For the next 10 years, Roussel composed nothing that even his biographers would call "epochal." However, his compositional voice was developing a unique personality.

Minor successes followed including a ballet but his three Evocations for piano lifted Roussel to a high position in French music circles. When the war broke out, Roussel's health limited his contribution to that of being a Red Cross ambulance driver. Nevertheless, time for composing was limited. Once again, his health broke down and in 1918 he was forced out of military service, returning once again to composition. His opera-ballet, Padmâvatî, created a sensation at its 1923 premiere, and his work was finally receiving praise and comparisons to such composers as Paul Dukas, Darius Milhaud, and Arthur Honegger.

From 1923 to his death in 1937, Roussel composed indefatigably. Interest in his music reached far beyond France. Conductors Serge Koussevitsky and Charles Munch championed his music in the United States and Roussel traveled to America in 1930 to witness the Boston and Chicago Symphony Orchestras perform several of his works. By 1937 he was recognized as the "doyen of French composers" with tribute concerts by the Paris Festival of the Contemporary Music Society.4 Throughout this period, however, he was still in fragile health. Bouts with pneumonia and jaundice weakened him and finally a heart attack caused his death. Honoring his request, he was buried in the cemetery of Varengeville, France, overlooking the sea.

Roussel's Musical Style and Output

Despite temporary influences from French impressionism and neo-classicism, Roussel developed an independent style. Perhaps this is due to his belated decision to become a composer. Eddins wrote:5

His music stands apart because of the originality of his invention and his technical mastery, but his style is not revolutionary, and he has had no disciples or imitators. ... His music ranks very high as the expression of an individual artist, but it set no stylistic trends.

Roussel himself categorized his compositional development into three periods. The first, "lightly influenced by Debussy, but careful, above all, of the solid architectural principles taught by d'Indy." The second period, "the harmonic progressions become more harsh and audacious, the Debussian atmosphere has completely disappeared." Finally, the third period brings a more "definitive mode of expression."6 His mature works (including A Glorious Day) are characterized by more concise formal structure, greater reliance on counterpoint and less harmonic dissonance.

Roussel's published compositions consist of 59 opus numbers and some 15 unnumbered works in nearly every medium of musical composition. His output was deliberately spread widely and thinly, which might explain his interest in writing for the wind band. Except for four symphonies, three ballets, and over 40 songs, he rarely repeated media or forms.

It is relevant that besides A Glorious Day, Roussel wrote other pieces for winds and percussion. Prelude to Act II of Romain Rolland's play Le Quatorze Juillet, (1936-no opus number) was also written for wind band including four oboes and six horns. It was written in collaboration with other French composers of the day including Milhaud, Jacques Ibert, Charles Koechlin, Georges Auric, Honneger, and Daniel Lazarus. The brief Fanfare pour un Sacre Paiïn (1921-no opus number), scored for four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, and three timpani was written at the request of Leigh Henry, an English music critic. Le Bardit des Francs (1926-no opus number) was written for male chorus accompanied by brass and percussion. An early chamber work for woodwind quintet and piano, the Divertissement (1906-op. 6), and his final work, an unfinished Andante for oboe, clarinet and bassoon (1937-no opus number), complete the output of his works for winds.

The Genesis and Premiere of A Glorious Day, op. 48

There are numerous unknowns and contradictions regarding the genesis and premiere of this composition. According to Roussel's first biographer, Arthur Hoérée, A Glorious Day was composed between November and December, 1932.[7] There was no dedication and the first performance was on July 14,1933, by the Band of the Garde Républicaine of Paris. These dates are also reported in Deane, Follett, Labelle, and Hoornaert and it is possible they unwittingly repeated these errors by using Hoérée as their source.8 The New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune corroborate that the actual premiere took place in the United States on June 19,1933, by the Goldman Band with Edwin Franko Goldman conducting.

Hoérée states Roussel composed the work "a la demande du President des American Bands" (at the request of the President of the American Bands).9 There can be no doubt that he meant The American Bandmasters Association (ABA) of which Edwin Franko Goldman was founder and president. Belser writes that A Glorious Day was commissioned for the Goldman Band, meaning funds were created either through the Goldmans or the Guggenheim Foundation.10 Primary sources documenting any contact or correspondence between Goldman and Roussel were pursued but remain undiscovered. This search includes researching the ABA and Goldman archives at the Special Collections in Performing Arts at the University of Maryland, the Goldman collections at the University of Michigan, the Peabody Collection (now relocated in the Library of Congress) and, for Roussel, the Harry Ransom Center for the Humanities in Austin, Texas, and the Mahler Mediathèque in Paris (a repository for many of Roussel's letters). Telephone and electronic mail correspondence with Myron Welch, Director of Bands at the University of Iowa (where the Goldman Band music library is stored), also revealed no known materials documenting how Roussel came to write this band composition for the Goldman Band. It is possible the details of the commission will never be known. According to Belser, "Commissions through the foundation or through Edwin Franko Goldman have little contractual evidence."11

There is precedent for Goldman contacting the leading composers of the day, however. In 1931, he convinced Henry Hadley, Percy Grainger, and Leo Sowerby to write original compositions for band. In addition, he was successful in commissioning Ottorino Respighi's only composition for band, Huntingtower Ballad, earlier that year. In his 1932 address to the ABA, Goldman stated: "... the great French Composer Maurice Ravel has promised to write a work for band."12 (n.b.: Ravel passed away before fulfilling that promise.)

In 1930, Albert Roussel and his wife traveled to Chicago and Boston to hear his Third Symphony, written for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. According to Labelle, the American public received him warmly.13 It is quite possible that it was during this trip that Goldman contacted him to write a work for his band.

The original manuscript of the three-line conductor's score now rests in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, the 36-page full score in Roussel's hand is located at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas.

On June 19,1933, a crowd variously estimated at 15,000-35,000 people thronged the Central Park Mall to witness the Goldman Band's first concert of its sixteenth season. The following program was performed:14

The June 19, 1933, program note for A Glorious Day read:15

This work, which was composed especially for band, was written at the request of Edwin Franko Goldman, to whom it is dedicated.

Roussel's own description of the work is as follows: "As the title indicates, I wanted to express in this work the joy and rhythm of a holiday. This composition interprets the sentiments of gaiety of those who are part of a big celebration. It must be performed with "gusto." I think that "A Glorious Day" will take its place of a real march to accompany school festivals and University celebrations, and all other ceremonies where a band will add to their joyous festivities."

Albert Roussel is one of the leading composers of France. This will be the first performance of this work anywhere.

While response to the concert overall was enthusiastic, public and critical reaction to Roussel 's piece was lukewarm. Francis Perkins, reviewing the concert for the Herald Tribune, wrote;16

The instrumentation is effective while the work as a whole, with its employment of its themes with considerable use of dissonant counterpoint, recalls in its atmosphere other recent works by a variety of European composers, including Roussel himself. Its welcome was less fervent that [sic] that accorded the other numbers, suggesting that this manner is still more in vogue with composers of the day than with the public at large.

The New York Times review, slightly more generous, stated: "The piece was vigorous and gay, and contained nothing that might bewilder an ear unaccustomed to modern idioms."17

Durand et Cie., publisher of the majority of Roussel's compositions, did think enough of A Glorious Day to publish it immediately in 1933. According to Deane, two versions of the work were published by Durand, one arranged for American bands and the other for French bands (Orchestre d'Harmonie). Finding the mysterious French version involved a great many people and a two continent search.

The search began with a letter to Desiré Dondeyne, conductor (now retired) of the Musique des Gardiens de la Paix de Paris (Paris Police Band). His band recorded the work in 1967. He forwarded my letter to Philippe Ferro, the current conductor who graciously sent the score used by M. Dondeyne. The score he sent was the identical three-line condensed score offered in the American version. That is, there was no indication of a different instrumentation. Moreover, he contacted Michele Mouton, the Durand et Cie. publications manager, and inquired about the French version. Durand had no record of a French version and M. Ferro surmised that the version was either lost or destroyed or, as Mme. Mouton believed, never existed. Then, the question remained, why did scholars who studied Roussel claim two versions of this piece?

The search for the French version continued in Paris. The Bibliotheque Nationale yielded the important, but ultimately unhelpful autograph of the original three-line conductor score. This manuscript revealed some of the instruments carrying a line but not all of the instruments and nothing to indicate two versions. While there, the Catalogue Raissoné de l'Oeuvre de Albert Roussel was consulted and stated that the full score was housed in the Harry Ransom Humanities Center in Austin, Texas. However, while in Paris there was no way of knowing if the full score contained the French version. So, a personal visit to Ourand et Cie. was next. M. Nazim Guerfi, International Sales Manager, and his assistant along with Michéle Mouton patiently checked current and archival catalogs and insisted only one version ever existed, even after seeing it stated in scholarly research that two versions existed.

The Band of the Garde Républicaine, the ensemble Hoérée erroneously credits for the work's premiere, was the next stop. If a French version existed, surely they would have it. M. Patrick Chanau, the band's librarian, stated the work was no longer in the concert band's library. He explained when the Garde Républicaine split up into four bands the piece might have gotten lost.

One last stop. Through the generosity and cooperation of M. Philippe Ferro, conductor of the Musique des Gardiens de la Paix de Paris, the author gained access to the Roussel score and parts in the Police Band's library. Remembering the three-line score is identical in both French and American versions, perhaps the published parts would offer the key.

There the search ended successfully. The words Orchon française appeared in parentheses in the following instruments: B-flat bugles 1 & 2, alto horns in Å-flat 1, 2, 3, & 4, barytons 1 & 2, B-flat basses, contrabasses (abbreviated C.B.) in Å-flat and B-flat. These parts are not included in the American version. The bass and contrabass parts are identical to the tuba parts in the American band version except for the transposition. The others are discreet parts based on various doublings offering different and interesting combinations of colors from the American publication. However, none has new material. So, it was a bit of an exaggeration to state two versions existed when indeed the parts for the French instruments were derivative of the American version. The autograph full score corroborates this. The instrumentation for the Orchon française are in red ink along with the cued notes indicating instrument doubling was occurring and these parts were supplements rather than essential to the piece. This supplementary French instrumentation corresponds with the personnel in the Garde Républicaine (Orchestre d'Harmonie militaire) and is similar to Florent Schmidt's Dionysiaques but for the addition of sarrusophone in the Schmidt.

Descriptive Analysis

A Glorious Day, op. 48 is a 287-measure composition that takes just seven minutes to perform. It is scored for D-flat piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, E-flat clarinet, 3 B-flat clarinets, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 2 alto saxophones, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, bass saxophone, 2 B-flat cornets, 2 B-flat trumpets, 4 E-flat horns, 4 trombones, 2 baritones, 2 tubas, timpani in B-flat and F, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, and triangle. The French version supplement includes B-flat bugles 1 & 2 (these are performed on flugel-horns), alto horns in E-flat 1, 2, 3, & 4, barytons 1 & 2, B-flat basses, and contrabasses in E-flat and B-flat. Roussel, who was fluent in English, titled the work in English. However, as Demuth states:18

He may have had in mind a glorious day in America, but basically it is one in France. It is the music of a people "en fête"; it is exuberant and light-hearted. We see in it a continuous movement of people, of people dancing, of processions.

Formally, the work is ternary with a modified fast-slow-fast format and an introduction and coda. In that sense, it operates with the coherence of an overture or even a symphonic movement. However, due to the brevity of the work, it has to be considered categorically as a miniature or ostensibly, a concert march. The following is a narrative outline of the form: Introduction: measures 1-10

Allegro moderato, quarter note = 112 in B-flat major.

The introduction measures are a series of major triads with flatted seventh, ninth, and twelfth chord members leading to the eventual resolution into the work's main tonal area-B-flat major. As the resolution to that tonic occurs, one can almost sense the clouds dissipating into a sunny day. The composer gives a hint of what is to come melodically in the introduction as well with melodic motifs in the upper woodwinds that resemble the principal theme.

Principal A section: measures 11 - 128

A theme statement (mm. 11-30); transition (mm. 31-44) to D major

B theme statement: (measures 45 - 60); The B theme is repeated (mm. 61-73) in G-flat major with triplet obligate); transition (mm. 74-79) back to B-flat major.

A theme statement returns briefly: (measures 80-87); transition and development (mm. 88-128) to Allegretto and C major

The A theme is syncopated, almost ragtime in character, perhaps to capture a hint of Americana. It is scored in the cornets that up until that time were tacit. This melody is doubled in the oboes. This practice of doubling cornets and oboes was common for the time and might have been the composer's decision to compensate for the likelihood of outdoor performances such as at the work's premiere. The transition is considerably darker, more chromatic with a single measure motive conversation between the clarinets and trombones. It eventually leads harmonically to D major through a series of unstable resolutions similar to the introduction.

The B theme is initially written in the lower voices and doubled at the octave. It is more resolute in character. Above it chatters a development of the transitional motif in the upper woodwinds. This B theme is repeated after a chromatically-charged modulation to G-flat major. This time the feel is one of bi-tonality as the trumpets assume the theme and the saxophones and bassoons provide a division of the beat by threes against the B theme's division by twos. The compositional language is unequivocally Rousselian providing a rare example for bands to experience real French music from between the World Wars.

The chromatic tensions rise until the resolution back to B-flat major and the return of the ragtime theme of the first section. It is short lived, however, as the theme gives way to the final transition before the middle section. This transition contains some of the thinnest instrumentation of the piece with only a quartet consisting of clarinet, alto saxophone, bass saxophone (cued in baritone sax), and 4th horn. This quartet changes colors to a quintet consisting of oboe, 2nd clarinet and 3rd clarinet, alto and bass clarinets, and bassoon. It is a brilliant respite from the over-scored A and B themes.

Principal B Section: measures 128 - 184

The third of the three main themes occurs during the slower middle section. Marked Andantino and featuring the alto saxophone, it is a delightful slice of French sans souci salon music. Kind of the opposite of an "American in Paris," this is a "Parisian in America." The jagged rhythms, staccato articulations, and dense chromaticism of the first section yield to a legato and more diatonic theme. Roussel is not primarily known as a great melodist but this proves to be an exception.

Roussel pulls the listener out of that relaxed state with a transition that accelerates and becomes increasingly chromaticized and syncopated. Motifs of the A theme appear briefly and are challenged by brass fanfares in quartel harmony.

Principal A section returns: measures 185 - 265

The B theme is the first of the principal A section themes to re-appear as the composition returns to the key of B-flat major. It is followed immediately by the A theme. Everything is emerging as if the composition is headed toward a satisfying coda when unexpectedly, the tempo slows to Andantino and the third main theme reappears for the final time. Its appearance is brief as the A theme returns with its boisterous flair. As if to ensure this "concert march" would never actually reach the parade route, Roussel enters the coda after an abrupt fermata. It achieves a high degree of tension without losing its sense of optimism.

Coda: measures 266 - 287

The coda reiterates the A theme for the last time punctuated by accented brass chords. The return to B-flat major occurs with the final cadence being joyful and exuberant; in a word, glorious.


In several ways, A Glorious Day is similar to the prototypical band compositions of the 1930s. The texture is oftentimes thickly scored with doublings that now sound too viscous for the 21st century wind band sensibilities. This is particularly true with the upper woodwinds where piccolo, flute, oboe, and E-flat clarinet often share the same line. The scoring with D-flat piccolo and B-flat horns is archaic. The first and E-flat clarinet parts are written often in the altissimo range. The key, while centering in B-flat major, moves through the less traditional keys for band compositions of D major and G-Flat major.

There are numerous ways to counteract the dense scoring and doubling of parts. Roussel himself suggests that the first clarinet part could be optional or for a solo player. The second clarinet part includes the suggestion, ou Ire Clarinette (or 1st clarinet), and the third clarinet part states ou 2e. clarinette (or 2nd clarinet). While conductors will need to decide if the doublings add to or detract from its overall message, the following suggestions might provide some guidance toward making A Glorious Day more playable while retaining its character, authenticity, and charm.

1. Consider eliminating the Clarinet 1 part altogether but be sure to include the following re-editings:

a. Have the second flutes enter with the first clarinet part cued in measure 22. Go back to written part in measure 23.

b. Have those playing Clarinet II play the clarinet I part from measure 45 to the first note of measure 61.

c. Have those playing Clarinet II play the clarinet I part in measure 77 then return to Clarinet II part

d. Divide Clarinet II in measure 83 with half playing the first clarinet part until measure 109.

e. Divide Clarinet II in measure 230 with half playing the first clarinet part until measure 243.

f. Divide Clarinet II in measure 281 with half playing the first clarinet part until the end.

2. E-flat clarinet part could be eliminated altogether but transpose the three sixteenth note anacrusis for solo flute.

3. Alto Clarinet could be eliminated completely but add the dotted eighth-sixteenth first beat to the tenor saxophone part In measure 123.

4. If band has a strong solo oboe, consider eliminating the solo cornet from measure 11 to measure 23.

5. Bass saxophone could be eliminated completely.

6. Consider a solo saxophone only from measure 229 to measure 243.

7. Consider placing half the flute section down an octave from measure 218 to measure 221.

8. Consider eliminating the second oboe part completely except measure 27 to measure 31 and measure 214 until the first note of measure 218.

Why is this composition worth performing and hearing? Does it deserve a permanent place in the repertoire? One could convincingly argue Albert Roussel's status as a leading French composer of his day. Although this work is not up to the caliber of his best orchestral or chamber pieces in either innovation or craft, it has enough of a Rousselian flavor to help us better understand the French musical style between the World Wars. There were only a handful of serious composers writing works for winds at that time and all of their compositions contribute to how the literature of the band developed. In this specific case, A . Glorious Day provides an interesting centerpiece between Schmidt's Dionysiaques and Milhaud's Suite Française in the lineage of contributions to wind literature by French composers. From a musical plane, the work is of a higher quality than most works written for band during that era, noting that few wind band compositions from that era by any composer are performed today with frequency.

One might ask what would have kept it from entering the permanent repertoire? Certainly its archaic instrumentation (D-flat piccolo, E-flat horns, and to some extent bass saxophone) contributes. Only a three-line score was published instead of a full score. Technical challenges prevent the average or below average band from performing it well. As the Goldman Band learned, the polytonal sections might push an audience's harmonic expectations beyond that of an informal "summer in the park" band concert. For these reasons, individually or collectively, A Glorious Day has never entered the permanent repertoire. However, with careful study and sensitive musicianship, this work has many rewards for both performer and listener.

Hal Leonard is currently distributing the original version. A new critical edition with full score and contemporary instrumentation is being prepared by Hal Leonard with a distribution date set for January, 2006.


1. The two commercial recordings are Dondeyne, Désiré. Marche Militaire. Musique des Gardiens de la Paix de Paris. Erato 70260, 1967. And, Pichaureau, Claude. Orchestre d'Harmonie des Gardiens de la Paix de Paris. Corélia CCD 88615. n.d. A noncommercial release of A Glorious Day, op. 48 can be found on Songs of the Earth; The United States Air Force Band, lieutenant Colonel Lowell E. Graham, Conductor; Compact Disk Recording, 1997.

2. Battisti, Frank L. The Winds of Change. Galesville, MD: Meredith Music Publications. 2002.

3. Stotter, Douglas Frederic. "The Goldman Band Programs, 1919-1955." Unpublished doctoral dissertation. The University of Iowa. 1993

4. Demuth, Norman. Albert Roussel. London: United Music Publishers. 1947. p. 32.

5. Eddins, John Marion. "The Symphonic Music of Albert Roussel." Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Florida State University. 1966. p. 212.

6. Ibid., p. 5. 7. Hoérée, Arthur. Albert Roussel. Paris: Les Éditions Rieder. 1938. p. 143.

8. Deane, Basil. Albert Roussel. London: Barrie and Rockliff. 1961. p. 168. Follett, Robert. Albert Roussel: A BioBibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Inc. 1988. p. 13. Labelle, Nicole. Catalogue Raissoné de l'Oeuvre de Albert Roussel. Presses de Louvin-La-Neuve Département d'Archéologie et d'Histoire de l'Art, College Erasme. 1992. p. 809. Hoornaert, Edward. http://www.opussl.comehoornaert/roussel/48 glory.htm

9. Hoérée, op. cit., p. 79.

10. Belser, Robert Steven. "Original Works for Concert Band Premiered or Commissioned by Edwin Franko Goldman, Richard Franko Goldman, and the Goldman Band 1919-1979." Unpublished doctoral dissertation. The University of Iowa. 1994. p. 63.

11. Ibid., p. 52.

12. Ibid., p. 56.

13. LaBelle, op. cit., p. 807.

14. "Goldman's Baton Lures Big Crowd." New York Times, June 20,1933.

15. Belser, op. cit., p. 807.

16. Perkins, Francis D. "Goldman Band Opens Season in Central Park." New York Herald Tribune, June 20, 1933.

17. "Goldman's Baton Lures Big Crowd." New York Times, June 20,1933.

18. Demuth, op. cit., p. 68.

[Author Affiliation]

MARK FONDER, professor of music, is the conductor of the Ithaca College Concert Band and has been teaching conducting and instrumental music education courses at Ithaca College since 1989. He is active as a guest conductor, adjudicator, school music consultant, and clinician, and has served in these capacities throughout the United States. His research has been presented at international, national, regional, and state music conventions and has been published in various journals including the Music Educators Journal, Band Directors Guide, The Instrumentalist, Journal of Band Research, and the Journal of Research in Music Education. He was the chair of the Music Educators Journal Editorial Committee from 1998-2002 and is currently editor of the Journal of Historical Research in Music Education.

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