Arthur Honegger

By Harry Halbreich; Roger Nichols | Go to book overview

FIVE

Reversal of Fortune:
In the Trough of the Wave

Honegger's music was still being played frequently, but less so than in the climactic years of 1920-1926, and his popularity rested essentially on works that were now no longer recent. Le Roi David, which continued to fill concert halls, was ten years old. Judith, even if performed quite often, had not emulated the success of Le Roi David, any more than Rugby had that of Pacific 2.3.1. The bitterness and doubt that suddenly assailed the hitherto productive and cheerful Honegger were nourished above all by the incomprehension that had greeted his recent large works, ones to which he was particularly attached: Antigone, the First Symphony, and especially Cris du monde. The immense popular success of Les Aventures du roi Pausole merely served, in his eyes, to deepen the misunderstanding. Would he be condemned from here on to write light music in order to reach the public?

For him, that was the central problem. He did not doubt the value of his recent large works. He had always been a very lucid judge of his own music, able to evaluate the relative importance of his pieces, but for an artist who had so little of the ivory tower about him, who was so keen to communicate with his contemporaries, it was first and foremost this contact that mattered. So far he had always achieved it, without aesthetic or intellectual compromise of any sort, and in this respect it was impossible for him to change. That was where doubts began to enter and gnaw away at him. It is true that for the next few years he would write less, but the handful of works covered by the present chapter -- the Sonatina for violin and cello, the Prelude, Arioso, and Fughetta, the Symphonic Movement No. 3, and Sémiramis -- show absolutely no reduction in quality. On the contrary, the Symphonic Movement No. 3 is one of Honegger's finest works, and its only drawback, as he himself knew, was that it did not have a snappy descriptive title like Pacific 2.3.1 or Rugby.

We catch up with the composer on 6 October 1931, thanks to a journey plan in his diary according to which he left Marseilles on that day and reached Paris on the evening of the 9th. On his return he found a letter from Paul Sacher, the first that has survived. Sacher said that he was planning to perform Cris du monde with his choir and orchestra on 20 January of the following year. He hoped the composer would be present and would be kind enough to agree to say something about the work to the audience beforehand. He was anxious to know whether, as he'd been told, Honegger at that time would be in China.

-126-

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