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Work of the Week – Augusta Holmès: Roland Furieux

In celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and conductor Valentina Peleggi will perform a programme featuring works by Clara Schumann, Joan Tower, Florence Price, and the first performance in modern times of Augusta Holmès’ Roland Furieux. 

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 in 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.

“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

Holmès quickly established a reputation in Parisian artistic circles, and she was well connected with famous composers of the time including Franz Liszt, Charles Gounod, and Camille Saint-Saëns. She wrote a number of orchestral pieces, of which her Ode Triomphale was the most successful in her lifetime. The 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.

Augusta Holmès: Roland Furieux – a rediscovered programmatic symphony

The three movements of Roland Furieux are programmatic snapshots of Ludovico Ariosto’s eponymous epic poem: 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 his unrequited love. The music depicts each scene vividly – uniform trotting figures in the first movement, a lyrical-tender melody in the second, and furious, wildly pulsing motifs in the final movement. The harmony is characteristic of the late-romantic tradition with its chromaticism and lead dramatic character.

Also available from Schott Music are Holmès’ Allegro Feroce and Air de Ballet, two short works for orchestra.



Photo: L. Taponier