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Arthur Honegger (French: [aʁtyʁ ɔnɛɡɛːʁ]; 10 March 1892 – 27 November 1955) was a Swiss composer, who was born in France and lived a large part of his life in Paris. He was a member of Les Six. His most frequently performed work is probably the orchestral work Pacific 231, which was inspired by the sound of a steam locomotive.
Born Oscar-Arthur Honegger (the first name was never used) to Swiss parents in Le Havre, France, he initially studied harmony and violin in Le Havre. After studying for two years at the Zurich Conservatory (merged in 1999 into the School of Music, Drama, and Dance (HMT), itself merged in 2007 into the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK)), he enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire from 1911 to 1918, studying with both Charles-Marie Widor and Vincent d'Indy. He made his Paris compositional debut in 1916 and in 1918 wrote the ballet Le dit des jeux du monde, generally considered to be his first characteristic work. In 1926 he married Andrée Vaurabourg, a pianist and fellow student at the Paris Conservatoire, on the condition that they live in separate apartments. They lived apart for the duration of their marriage, with the exceptions of one year from 1935-36 following Vaurabourg's injury in a car accident, and the last year of Honegger's life, when he was not well enough to live alone. They had one daughter, Pascale, born in 1932. Honegger also had a son, Jean-Claude (1926–2003), with the singer Claire Croiza.
In the early 1920s Honegger shot to fame with his "dramatic psalm" Le roi David ("King David"), which is still in the choral repertoire. Between World War I and World War II, Honegger was very prolific. He composed the music for Abel Gance's epic 1927 film, Napoléon. He composed nine ballets and three vocal stage works, amongst other works. One of those stage works, Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher (1935), a "dramatic oratorio" (to words by Paul Claudel), is thought of as one of his finest works. In addition to his pieces written alone, he collaborated with Jacques Ibert on both an opera, L'Aiglon (1937), and an operetta. During this time period he also wrote Danse de la chèvre (1921), an essential piece of flute repertoire. Dedicated to René Le Roy and written for flute alone, this piece is lively and charming, but with the same directness of all Honegger's work.
Honegger had always remained in touch with Switzerland, his parents' country of origin, but with the outbreak of the war and the invasion of the Nazis, he found himself unable to leave Paris. He joined the French Resistance and was generally unaffected by the Nazis themselves, who allowed him to continue his work without too much interference. However, he was greatly depressed by the war. Between its outbreak and his death, he wrote his last four symphonies (numbers two to five) which are among the most powerful symphonic works of the 20th century. Of these, the second, for strings, featuring a solo trumpet which plays a chorale tune by Johann Sebastian Bach in the final movement, and the third, subtitled Symphonie Liturgique with its three movements evoking the Requiem Mass (Dies Irae, De profundis clamavi and Dona nobis pacem), are probably the best known. Written in 1946 just after the end of the war, it has parallels with Benjamin Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem of 1940. In complete contrast with this work is the lyrical, nostalgic Symphony No. 4, subtitled "Deliciae Basilienses" ("The Delights of Basel") and written as a tribute to days of relaxation spent in that Swiss city during the war.
Honegger was widely known as a train enthusiast, and once notably said: "I have always loved locomotives passionately. For me they are living creatures and I love them as others love women or horses." His "mouvement symphonique" Pacific 231 (a depiction of a steam locomotive) gained him early notoriety in 1923.
In 1953 he wrote his last composition, A Christmas Cantata. After a protracted illness, he died at home in Paris of a heart attack on 27 November 1955 and was interred in the Saint-Vincent Cemetery in the Montmartre Quarter.
The principal elements of Honegger's style are: Bachian counterpoint, driving rhythms, melodic amplitude, highly coloristic harmonies, an impressionistic use of orchestral sonorities, and a concern for formal architecture. His style is weightier and more solemn than that of his colleagues in Les Six. Far from reacting against German romanticism as the other members of Les Six did, Honegger's mature works show evidence of a distinct influence by it. Despite the differences in their styles, he and fellow Les Six member Darius Milhaud were close friends, having studied together at the Paris Conservatoire. Milhaud dedicated his fourth string quintet to Honegger's memory, while Francis Poulenc similarly dedicated his Clarinet Sonata.
Honegger is currently featured on the Swiss twenty franc banknote.
Honegger's symphonic movement Rugby was recorded with him conducting the Paris Symphony Orchestra in a 1929 electrical recording, which can be heard on YouTube. Many of Honegger's recordings as conductor of his music have been reissued on CD by Pearl and Dutton.
- Orchestral Music :
- Symphonies :
- Symphonic Movements :
- 1923 : H 53 Pacific 231 (Symphonic Movement No. 1)
- 1928 : H 67 Rugby (Symphonic Movement No. 2)
- 1933 : H 83 Symphonic Movement No. 3
- Concerti :
- 1929 : H 72 Concerto for cello and orchestra in C major (Cello Concerto)
- 1948 : H 196 Concerto da camera, for flute, English horn and strings
- Others :
- 1917 : H 16 Le chant de Nigamon
- 1920 : H 31 Pastorale d'été
- 1923 : H 47 Chant de joie (Song of Joy)
- 1951 : H 204 Monopartita
- 1921 : H 37 Le roi David (King David) libretto by René Morax, version for orchestra in 1923
- 1935 : H 99 Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher, libretto by Paul Claudel, version with prologue in 1941
- 1938 : H 131 La danse des morts, (The Dance of the Dead) libretto by Paul Claudel
- 1953 : H 212 Une cantate de Noël (A Christmas Cantata)
- Operas :
- 1903 : H Philippa, not orchestrated, performed, or published
- 1904 : H Sigismond, lost
- 1907 : H La Esmeralda, after Victor Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris, unfinished and unpublished
- 1918 : H La mort de sainte Alméenne, libretto by M. Jacob, unpublished and only Interlude orchestrated
- 1925 : H Judith, libretto by René Morax, premiered at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo on 13 February 1925
- 1927 : H 65 Antigone, libretto by Jean Cocteau based on Sophocles, premiered at La Monnaie on 28 December 1927
- 1925 : H L'Aiglon, co-written with Jacques Ibert; libretto for acts 2–4 by H. Cain, after E. Rostand, libretto for acts 1 and 5 by Ibert, Opéra de Monte-Carlo, 10 March 1937
- 1930 : H Les aventures du roi Pausole, libretto by A. Willemetz, after P. Louÿs, premiered 12 December 1930, Paris, Bouffes-Parisiens
- 1931 : H La belle de Moudon, libretto by René Morax, , Mézières, Jorat, Switzerland, 30 May 1931, unpublished
- 1937 : H Les petites cardinal, libretto by Willemetz and P. Brach, after L. Halévy, Paris, Bouffes-Parisiens, 13 February 1938
- Ballets :
- 1918 : H 19 Le dit des jeux du monde
- 1921 : H 38 Horace victorieux, symphonie mimée
- 1917 : H 15 String Quartet No. 1 in C minor
- 1935 : H 103 String Quartet No. 2 in D
- 1937 : H 114 String Quartet No. 3 in E
- 1945 : H 181 Paduana for Cello solo
- 1947 : H 193 Intrada for C trumpet and piano
Performed by Sarah Bassingthwaite
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Reference is made to Arthur Honegger discography.
- Honegger's biographer was Marcel Landowski, the French composer and arts administrator, who was greatly influenced by Honegger. His biography appeared in 1978 (ISBN 2-02000227-2) although it has yet to be translated into English.
- Arthur Honegger by Harry Halbreich, translated into English by Roger Nichols. Considers both Honegger's life and works. With the cooperation of Honegger's daughter Pascale, Halbreich has fully documented Honegger's life since childhood. All works are treated, more significant ones analyzed in detail. ISBN 1-57467-041-7 (1999).
- Geoffry Spratt. "Honegger, Arthur." Grove Music Online.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Arthur Honegger.|
- Free scores by Arthur Honegger at the International Music Score Library Project
- Site Arthur Honegger – The official site on the composer; bilingual (French and English)
- Unlocking the Mystery of Honegger
- Performance of Honegger Cello Concerto by Julian Lloyd Webber and Yan Pascal Tortelier
- Cello Concerto Review
- Drama lírico Bíblico, Judith (audio online y descarga).
- Arthur Honegger – biography of the composer
- František Sláma Archive. More on the history of the Czech Philharmonic between the 1940s and the 1980s: Conductors