The Complete Piano Music of Jean Roger-Ducasse

#9 Forbes Best Classical Recordings of 2016

Jean Roger-Ducasse was born in Bordeaux on 18 April 1873. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 1892 and in 1895, along with Ravel, joined the composition class of Gabriel Fauré. In 1902 he won the second Grand Prix de Rome with his cantata Alcyone, with Ravel gaining fourth prize. He had a very active role in musical life in Paris founding the Société Musicale Indépendante in 1909 and gaining the position of inspector general for the teaching of singing in Paris schools in 1910. His circle included Fauré, to whom he was a close friend, the famed pianist Marguerite Long, who performed his Six Preludes in 1912, and Debussy, who Roger-Ducasse joined for the premiere of En Blanc et Noir in 1916. In 1935 he succeeded Paul Dukas as Professor of Composition at the Paris Conservatoire, a post he held until the outbreak of World War II after which he retired to Bordeaux. He died in Taillan-Médoc, Gironde on 19 July 1954.

Roger-Ducasse's compositions include several songs, two string quartets, numerous orchestral and choral pieces, two stage works and a sizeable group of piano pieces. Contrary to the music of Ravel and Debussy Roger-Ducasse's style is not impressionist but descends from Chopin and more closely aligns with Fauré. The piano music, composed 1906-1923, is typical of his musical language: complex and chromatic, but perfectly formed. It is now high-time to revisit the works of this unjustly forgotten talent.

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"Goodness, this favorite pupil of Fauré’s and Ravel-contemporary knew how to write tenaciously charming music and Martin Jones communicates it marvelously well, with a felt touch and color-rich palette that give Roger-Ducasse the full impressionist treatment."


Forbes Top 10 Classical Recordings of 2016


"Finely recorded, [Martin Jones] makes it difficult to imagine performances of a greater lucidity and command."


Gramophone October 2015 


“There are some lovely pieces in these Livres, impressively played by Martin Jones and Adrian Farmer… I found this to be an unexpectedly enticing release. Although Debussy occasionally comes to mind, Jean Roger-Ducasse has a forward looking, wholly personal touch. Lovers of late 19th and early 20th century French piano music should fall in love with many of these pieces especially in such fine performances. The recording from the Concert Hall of the Nimbus Foundation, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK is tip top. There are useful notes.”


Jean Roger-Ducasse, a pupil of Fauré, largely gave up composition after he took up teaching duties at the Paris Conservatoire after Fauré’s death. He then left Paris for Bordeaux on the outbreak of the Second World War, writing bitter letters complaining of his neglect to his former friends which served only to alienate the supporters he still had in Paris. The rise of Les Six and other iconoclasts of their generation into prominence on the French musical scene can hardly have helped his reputation. Before his death the growing influence in France of Schoenberg and Webern had effectively consigned his music to the sidelines. Martin Jones’s indefatigable exploration of the neglected byways of music has now lighted on Roger-Ducasse’s piano music written between 1899 and 1923. He has made handsome amends for the record companies’ previous neglect by letting us hear all of it. Although Nimbus (with commendable caution) do not claim any of the works here as “first recordings” it does not appear than more than a handful of them have ever been available on disc before.  The first two discs in this set give us a complete conspectus of Roger-Ducasse’s development as a composer for the piano from the first Barcarolle of 1906 to the Romance written a mere seventeen years later. The third disc, in which Martin Jones is joined by Adrian Farmer, gives us the works for two pianists including the Petite Suite, Prelude to a ballet and interlude from Au jardin de Marguerite all of which were included in their orchestral guise on the pair of Segerstam CDs. The latter two scores are here given in reductions for piano made by the composer. Although Roger-Ducasse himself was reported to be an excellent pianist, his writing for the piano is far from straightforward or easy to accomplish in performance. Adrian Farmer describes the technique required as “ambitious” and notes that the composer clearly had very large hands capable of striking intervals of a tenth with ease and utilising chords of up to seven notes in one hand. Martin Jones, as one would expect, makes light of such problems; although the writing is clearly difficult, he allows the music to emerge with a sense of line and never simply as a technical exercise. The Variations on a Chorale (CD1, track 14), the longest single work on these discs, comes across as a unified whole and there are many felicities also in the shorter pieces. Anybody who enjoys French music of the early twentieth century should thoroughly enjoy making the acquaintance of this excellent crafted, and superbly performed, music. We should be grateful to Martin Jones, Adrian Farmer and Nimbus for making this music available – and in such excellent performances and recordings, and so well presented. Their endeavours richly deserve to be rewarded with success.




Roger-Ducasse's orchestral music has been held up as the best of him, and he certainly sounds far more advanced here than several of his contemporaries… The wild chromatic climaxes and almost barbaric colouring show a composer equal to the elusive, though sometimes overwhelming Schmitt.

…However, the Piano Music over three CDs played by Martin Jones lays bare this composer's gifts like an X-ray. The works offer a bare-bones index of his development. Jones takes a gently magisterial path through these shifts and enrichments and proves, as they say, to be the ideal companion.

Disc 1, with the first Barcarole No. 1 from 1906, is a big-boned work, with a fine chordal declamation. It's shy of proclaiming its essential Fauré-ness perhaps and sounding quite late-Romantic, an impression undercut by impressionism. It's a strong memorable piece if not the way Roger-Ducasse developed… Listening through earlier Roger-Ducasse you realize there's a route not taken, a distinction early on that grows out even more individually. Again, I'm reminded of Schmitt. This last allows rubato and complex rhythms to crown a set of insistent, oblique beauty.

…The risen theme gleams with genius. You can't forget it. Think Fauré, the Debussy of Jeux from the same year; and yes, a dash of Schmitt. It's that kind of feel. This is a work that luckily revels in an orchestral guise too. It's one of Roger-Ducasse's great moments; it'd be wonderful to hear either guise in concert.

And what a transcription it is: sonorous, magnificent, a consolatory monument written whilst Bach's compatriots were laying waste French soil. It's also an Escorial to the way this composer imagined things: complex, innovatively conservative, with a sleight of modernity to render him more complex, more veined in modernism than his dusty name lets us imagine. Performances are as you'd expect beyond reproach. Both pianists seem perfectly attuned to Roger-Ducasse's idiom in the two-piano works. Overall Jones negotiates French clarity too – the proverbial D major of the French language that suffuses French pianism. Jones also understands Roger-Ducasse's refractive even astigmatic gift - that singular way he gropes to modernism via Fauré's late harmonies. Or to adapt poet Emily Dickinson's lines about truth: Roger-Ducasse shows his gifts but shows them slant.

…Had Roger-Ducasse died say in 1923, he might have been taken up earlier. Because he survived his time, there's an unwarranted stigma. Now we can see his extraordinary, quiet gifts steady and whole.

Music Web International – Classical Review

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