Arthur Honegger

By Harry Halbreich; Roger Nichols | Go to book overview
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Honegger's Physique and Character

Apart from his outstanding musical gifts, Honegger was also blessed by Nature with physical beauty and charm, not to mention a robust constitution (at least until the catastrophe of summer 1947). Countless private and public photographs attest to these physical attributes, taking us on a journey from the chubby little boy in Le Havre to the tragic figure of his last years. He was not tall, only about five feet six inches, but he was vigorous and well-proportioned, with a rather thick neck, broad shoulders, and a powerful torso.

This "sporty" outline gradually spread with age to a certain portliness that was encouraged by an active appetite. The well-known riposte, recorded by Arthur Hoérée, made to a friend who was shocked at the manner in which Honegger was putting away chocolate cake -- "Don't worry, with me it all gets turned into music!" -- was unfortunately not entirely true. Certainly Juliette Pary's description (in her memoirs L'Amour des camarades) of Honegger's "three ample chins" in 1936 or 1937 is distinctly exaggerated, as the photographs show, but a family snapshot taken a little later, at the Thévenet's in Montquin, does reveal "spare tires" that are somewhat short of athletic. They made a healthy departure during the war and the Occupation, only to return with a vengeance in peacetime and would have an undoubted part to play in his first heart attack. As we know, even this event had no immediate effect on his silhouette, since he was determined, in the face of common sense, to return to his earlier frantic pace of living, and it is only in the photographs of the last three or four years of his life that we see the haggard body of someone seriously ill.

The photographs of him as a baby, especially the one showing him prophetically clutching a locomotive, show a singularly determined mouth under the dark gaze and darker curls. At nineteen, Turly the student has a rebellious quiff, or tuft of hair, over his left eye, which is colder and more analytical than its dreamier counterpart. The nose is well-formed, a little long perhaps (it would curve down as the years went by), and his expression is one of concentrated energy with a touch of stiffness, no doubt a result of his shyness and emphasized by his floppy bow tie.

In the photographs of the following years, however, this adolescent "skinny cat" look would gradually change as the curve of the face became fuller and more pronounced, and his expression becomes dreamy and gentle, if slightly clouded, with a hint of sensuality. We see him at Méziéres with the two Morax


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