This month marks the 120th anniversary of the death of composer Augusta Holmès. In celebration of her memory, the Chelsea Symphony, conducted by Miguel Campos Neto, will perform her symphony Roland Furieux at the Menna Center for Classical Music in New York City on January 20th, 2023.
Born in Paris in 1947, Holmès composed Roland Furieux in 1876 at the height of her career. In spite of being unable to study formally at the Conservatoire de Paris, Holmès received a musical education privately from a variety of teachers including César Franck. Following the death of her father, Holmès was able to remain financially independent and pursue a career as a composer.
Holmès quickly established a reputation in Parisian artistic circles and became well connected with famous composers such as Franz Liszt, Charles Gounod, and Camille Saint-Saëns. She wrote a large number of orchestral pieces and gained high recognition for her cantata, Ode Triomphale, which later became her most successful composition in her lifetime. This work, which requires the immense forces of 300 orchestral players and a choir of 900, was performed at the World Exhibition in Paris 1889 to mark the centenary of the French Revolution.
She was an able composer before, but after she met Franck she started to produce these huge works, one after another, and her composition career just took off. (Dr. Anastasia Belina, Musicologist, Royal College of Music, London)
Roland Furieux features three movements of programmatic snapshots from Ludovico Ariosto’s eponymous epic poem. The music embodies scenes of Roland riding through the world in search of Angélique, Angélique with her beloved, Médor, in the woods; and finally Roland, full of rage fuelled by jealousy and unrequited love. The music depicts each setting vividly using dramatic effects involving uniform trotting figures in the first movement, a lyrical-tender melody in the second, and furious, wildly pulsing motifs in the final movement. The symphony’s harmony is characteristic of the late-romantic tradition’s use of chromaticism and sense of drama as if Holmès carried the spirit of the furious Roland in herself…
Roland Furieux can additionally be heard with the Chelsea Symphony at the Menna Center for Classical Music in New York City on January 21st, 2023.