Arthur Honegger

By Harry Halbreich; Roger Nichols | Go to book overview

NINETEEN

Tastes and Influences

There is an old saying: "Tell me what you're reading and I'll tell you who you are." Let us make our way up to the large studio on the boulevard de Clichy and cast an eye over the bookcase (or rather the bookcases, since, to our surprise, we find there is not one but seven). True, some of them are for music (we shall look at these in a moment), including one whole case containing his bound "complete works," a gift from Mica Salabert -- although it would in fact take more than one case to house his entire output of sixty or so hours of music.

Apart from that, Honegger was a voracious, indeed compulsive reader, and the extent of his interests and culture leaves one breathless. Here are works of philosophy, psychology, and theology, reflecting a continual process of thought and questioning. As we should expect from someone so preoccupied with his fellow human beings, history occupies a privileged place. Also, the past helps in the understanding of a present that is not rejected, but mercilessly examined and criticized and so actively and lucidly absorbed. The pessimistic Honegger of his last years was more than ever an avid newspaper reader, preferring to "know what sort of meal they're going to make out of me." Hence the mass of clippings carefully pasted into the little notebooks, glossed with biting remarks. There are very few scientific or technical works, but we do find all the great novels, both classic and modern. This predilection marries with Honegger the symphonist and stage composer, and with a narrative sense that was very unusual for a creative musician. Honegger himself explained the link to Bernard Gavoty. 1

I really think a symphony or a sonata can be compared to a novel, with its
themes being characters. We get to know them and then follow them
through their evolution and psychological development. We come face
to face with their physical appearance. Some arouse our sympathy, others
cause us repulsion. They oppose each other or combine; they like each
other, form alliances, or engage in conflict.

Olivier Messiaen would speak in not very different terms of his "rhythmic characters," though placing them on a stage rather than in a novel. Looking through Honegger's library, we also discover his passion for detective stories: they take up a complete cupboard, with a large number by Georges Simenon. What he admired in Simenon, the creator of Maigret, was both his techni

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