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Arthur Honegger


“It has always been my desire and my endeavor to write music that is understandable to the large mass of listeners, and yet as free as possible of banality so that it would also be capable of captivating the real music lovers.”   
Arthur Honegger

The Swiss-French composer was born in Le Havre on
10 March 1892 and died in Paris on 27 November 1955. As
a member of "Les Six", his serious-minded musical aesthetic was entirely different from that of others in the group.

He developed unusual musical and dramatic forms in large-scale works for voices and orchestra and was one of the 20th century’s most dedicated contrapuntists, with a clear indebtedness to Bach. His language is essentially tonal but characterized by a highly individual use of dissonance.

Despite his admiration for Debussy and Ravel, his music is often rugged and uncompromising. Honegger studied the violin and harmony (under R.-C. Martin) as a child in Le Havre. He then spent two years at the Zürich Conservatory, where his teachers included Friedrich Hegar (composition), Willem de Boer (violin) and Lothar Kempter (theory); his discovery of the music of Wagner, Strauss and Reger had a profound effect on his emergent musical language.

In 1911 he enrolled at the Paris Conservatory: the need to commute there twice weekly by train was no impediment for Honegger, a railway enthusiast. (The other two great passions in his life were sports, particularly rugby, and fast cars, especially his beloved Bugatti.)

When his family returned to Switzerland in 1913, he settled in Montmartre, residing there until his death. During his seven years as a student at the Paris Conservatory, he studied under Capet (violin), Gédalge (counterpoint and fugue), Widor (composition and orchestration), d’Indy (conducting) among others. Fellow students included Tailleferre, Auric, Ibert (with whom he collaborated on two large scale works in the 1930s) and Milhaud, who became a close friend. His music was first heard publicly in Paris in July 1916.

Although Honegger was a member of "Les nouveaux jeunes", and later of "Les Six" he shared with the other members a stimulating companionship rather than a group aesthetic, whose existence he always denied. While he undoubtedly benefited from the immense publicity accorded to "Les Six" his own distinctive musical language attracted widespread acclaim even before his music for René Morax’s "Le roi David" (1921) catapulted him to international prominence.

The series of large scale dramatic works and major symphonic scores he composed during the following 30 years estab-lished him as one of the most significant composers of his generation. Nearly all his music was recorded during his lifetime, some even under his own direction. He also made pioneering and extensive contributions to the development of music for film (43 scores) and radio (eight programs). His many honors include being elected to the Institut de France (1938), foreign membership in the Académie des Beaux Arts, the presidency of the Confédération Internationale des SACEM and an honorary doctorate from the University of Zürich (1948). (Extract with courtesy from: © The New Grove Dic. of Music, London 1980)

”I place great importance on musical architecture, which should never be sacrificed for literary reasons or picturesque purposes. Perhaps I have an exaggerated tendency towards polyphonic complexity. My primary source of reference is Johann Sebastian Bach.”    Arthur Honegger 1952

book tip

Arthur Honegger:
"Ich bin Komponist, Gespräche über Beruf, Handwerk und Kunst."
Atlantis Musikbuch-Verlag, Zürich, 1987 (1952).

TRO CD 01441 - Arthur Honegger La Danse des morts - Frank Martin Requiem -
€ 19.00

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Arthur Honegger








"Les Six", 1931