Arthur Honegger

By Harry Halbreich; Roger Nichols | Go to book overview

EIGHTEEN

The Problem of Faith

Honegger is, with Olivier Messiaen, undoubtedly the greatest religious composer of the twentieth century. From the childhood Oratorio du Calvaire to the final Cantate de Noél, religious inspiration is certainly the longest and strongest string in Honegger's creative bow. This continuing impulse is evidenced by some thirty works of every form and size, from simple songs to vast oratorios. But beyond that, Honegger's whole approach belongs to an inescapably spiritual conception. His words and his writings confirm the fact explicitly, while his contemporaries and commentators are unanimous on the subject. Following are some relevant testimonies.

Fritz Miinch, in his funeral oration of 2 December 1955, said of Honegger:

Of this too I am certain: in his soul he was profoundly religious. In his private life, the great reserve that was one of his distinguishing marks often hid the depth of his character, but it comes out in his music. . . . A great thinker has said that, in music alone, it is impossible to tell lies. The tone Honegger brings to psalms of trust, hope, and penitence are of such total sincerity and of such expressive power that they must come from a deeply religious nature. . . . And 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.

The composer Tony Aubin said: "His inspiration was of the highest quality. This inspiration seems to me to tend toward an absolute of a religious kind." The critic Jacques Feschotte wrote in his biography of the composer:

He was certainly very far from demonstrating any superficial or exterior devotion. But who, among the men of our time, has felt and expressed more profoundly the miraculous power of the superhuman voice of Christ,. who showed our souls an everlasting hope, than the great composer of Péques, é New York, La Danse des morts, the Symphonie liturgique, and Une Cantate de Noél? . . . I am convinced that it is essentially at the foot of the Cross that he achieves his true greatness. And, in the silence, I hear his voice, that raucous low voice of his last years, emphatically repeating: "There is Hope, which is the strongest. . . ." That is the brief but passion

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