Arthur Honegger (1892-1955)

Arthur Honegger was born in Le Havre, France to Swiss parents. He was a member of the composers group Les Six, which also included Francis Poulenc and Darius Milhaud. Some of his most frequently performed works are simply symphonic poems that expressed his interests and hobbies, such as Rugby and Pacific 231 (which was meant to imitate the steam locomotive and reflected his lifelong love of trains), as well as his homage to summer, the lyrical Pastorale d’été. Honegger’s compositional style was influenced by Bach and reflected his own ironic sense of humor, as shown by one of his most famous quoted observations: “There is no doubt that the first requirement for a composer is to be dead.”

Honegger’s Protestant upbringing was reflected in a number of his best compositions. His first work to achieve great success is the oratorio Le Roi David (King David). Two other masterworks with sacred themes are the oratorio Jeanne d’Arc au bucher (about Joan of Arc), and the Symphony No. 3 (Symphonie Liturgique), which depicts parts of the Requiem Mass. His final work was the Cantate Noël (Christmas Cantata). At his funeral, the conductor Fritz Münch offered this eulogy:

“In his soul he was profoundly religious… it comes out in his music. … The older he became and the more experience he gained of life, the more he felt the need to give his great works religious endings. They came quite naturally to him, as a sign of his inner life, which was expressed in his music without his having to think about it.”

Suggested Listening:

Suggested Reading:

Harry Halbreich. Arthur Honegger.