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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. With the outbreak of the war, however, he joined the army as an artillery lieutenant. After the war and much reflection, Roussel took a new direction in his music, toward a more austere, personal style.

The Op. 40 Trio was composed in 1929, just before his Symphony No. 3 (heard here last month). It was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the extraordinary American patron, and premiered in Prague on October 22, 1929. The music reflects Roussel’s idosyncratic take on neo-Classicism, clear and concise, with a prevailing tonality gently bumped by unprepared dissonances and hints of polytonality. The central Andante has the languid cast of a slow blues by Gershwin, pulled into darker currents by the strings. The zesty outer movements feature the flute in athletic romps, playing variation games in the finale with meter and tempo.

— John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association