Catastrophe and Reprieve: The Final Harvest
To begin with, everything went well in the States. On 6 July, the day after his arrival, Honegger moved in at Lenox, Massachusetts, near Tanglewood, where the courses he had agreed to teach would be given. The first one, on the Symphonie liturgique, took place on the 8th, and two more followed on the 11th and 12th. But preparations had to be made for the South American tour, and for that he had to obtain the visas that he detested so violently. On the 20th Honegger drove in an automobile to New York, in the stifling heat which that huge city suffers every summer, with a humidity count that overwhelms anyone who is not used to it. On the 21st, at the Mexican consulate, he suddenly felt so ill that he had to go immediately and see a doctor -- something that ordinarily never happened to him. Dr. Taylor of Park Avenue immediately realized how serious the situation was and sent him back to Lenox with orders that he should have absolute rest and not move. It is true that, as he would admit to Arthur Hoérée in a letter written on 24 September, he had been exhausted when he left Paris. But now it was his heart that was failing, and in a month's time it would be worse.
Fifty-five is a critical age for all men, but particularly for someone who has never looked after himself, who lives a frenetic life, and who, in addition, does not intend to renounce any of the joys of existence. After the privations of the war, Arthur launched himself at anything that could banish the memory of doubtful pâtés and stews of unknown parentage, with the result that he put on weight with dangerous rapidity. 1 Corpulence, cholesterol, hypertension, and intolerable heat: a combination of all the conditions necessary for a serious warning shot.
In reply to a letter from Darius Milhaud, announcing that on 12 or 13 August he would be returning to France for the first time since the war, Honegger told him what had happened:
My dear Darius, The stupidest thing of all is not just being here, but being stuck in bed waiting for permission to ring your number in three or four days' time. What happened was that a few days after my arrival I went to New York for my Mexican visa, and found myself so out of breath, I had to be taken to a doctor, who ordered me to bed. I've overtaxed a muscle in my heart.