Arthur Honegger

By Harry Halbreich; Roger Nichols | Go to book overview

TWENTY-THREE

Epilogue

We have now reached the end of this long exploration of a man and his work: a great and lovable man, and a magnificent body of work that posterity cherishes and will continue to cherish. His music has achieved the rare miracle of speaking to the listeners of its own time and to us today, and to our children. And, as we saw in the course of the last chapter, it has regained in the liberated context of the end of this century a relevance that it seemed to have lost during the "Ice Age" that has just come to an end. What will be the position history finally accords Arthur Honegger and his music? Perhaps it is too early to tell, or perhaps the answer is not that important. He himself, with his typically Swiss, nononsense sense of humor, would have responded to such a question with a great guffaw of laughter. That he belongs among the "greats" of the twentieth century seems plain enough to me. But also that he was neither a Bach nor a Beethoven: as I have already said, there is no Bach or Beethoven in the twentieth century. That said, however. . . .

Once upon a time there was a great composer, well endowed with talents and good looks, whose parents were well off and encouraged him in his vocation. Thanks to a prodigious technique, he mastered every style with disconcerting ease, without ever ceasing to be himself or to have a recognizable style. Despite his success, he was always hard on himself, being conscious of both his limitations and his abilities. Spiritually, he came from the tradition of Protestantism and the chorale, and he was the great reviver of the oratorio, which had fallen on hard times. He also applied his genius to the cultivation of chamber and orchestral music. He had a feeling and a taste for works that were successful on every front, without weak patches or longueurs, and also for elegance, as one can see both from his manuscripts and from his dress and deportment.

His generosity and tolerance made him universally loved. He was neither a revolutionary nor a fossil, but he knew how to maintain the happy medium in a period characterized by excess and hysteria. His contemporaries saw in him the reincarnation of Johann Sebastian Bach, whom he adored and whose greatest continuator he was. But immediately after his early death, he was the target of a denigration and an ill-will that drove him into disfavor, indeed semi-oblivion, from which he did not emerge for some time. He has now emerged, however, and he is once again placed beside the greatest. His name was Felix Mendelssohn. His name was Arthur Honegger.

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