Arthur Honegger

By Harry Halbreich; Roger Nichols | Go to book overview

Introduction

At the end of 1989, I was present at the premiere of the opera Romeo and Juliet by Pascal Dusapin, undoubtedly the most highly gifted French composer of his generation. I told him that in my opinion -- and I made it clear my words were intended as a great compliment -- this was the most Honeggerian score written since Honegger's death. I saw Dusapin literally change color, as he replied: "That makes me very worried!" And he immediately went on: "I have to say, I know very little of Honegger's music."

This seemed to me to typify the younger generation's ignorance of Honegger. Like many others thirty or forty years ago, Honegger was a victim of the stranglehold of serialism, but also of supporters of doubtful value. He served, in fact, as a standard, a rallying point, against the passing "serial terror," for the most reactionary forces in music -- an indefensible role that he would energetically have refused, had he lived. It is high time to re-evaluate his considerable output in the light of objective, modern criteria, and his music deserves to be examined in the context of the era in which he composed it. We shall see then that it represented an approach that was bold and innovative and in no sense backward-looking. We can also see, with the benefit of hindsight, that the positions he took up at the end of his life, which ran the risk then of seeming oldfashioned, were in fact ahead of their time and were mistaken only in being born too soon. Here we have one of those sudden, unexpected turns so often found in history, which should have warned people not to judge matters too hastily.

The "Honegger case" is among the most fascinating one could wish to defend in Honegger's centenary year of 1992. The case needs to be pled, but it is a good, solid case, and shows every likelihood of being won at the bar of history. I take it on with enthusiasm.

-13-

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