Arthur Honegger

By Harry Halbreich; Roger Nichols | Go to book overview

Part Three

GATHERING THE THREADS

It is inevitable that when you spend more than a year and a half in the company of a man and his work you begin to identify closely with him. I hardly knew Arthur Honegger, having met him for only a dozen or so sessions of a course he taught in the first half of 1953 -- it was the last one he was able to give-but I still have the memory of a great spiritual presence in the fall of its life. It was, though, more the daily contact with hundreds of letters and personal documents and with hundreds of scores -- usually autograph scores, which made them seem closer in some real manner -- not to mention innumerable talks with Pascale Honegger about her father, whom she resembles in so many ways, that made Honegger seem like an intensely living presence with whom I could almost hold a conversation.

So I have deliberately left until the end of the book this portrait sketch of Honegger as man and composer. Just as it is only normal for me to want to sum up at the end of my research, so the reader too, after having read the facts of Honegger's biography and examined his output, will want to think about what sort of man Honegger was. As to defining Honegger's musical style and language, many facets of these have been covered in the course of analyzing individual works, and so I have refrained from repeating myself and simply referred the reader to the passages in question.

The publication of ècrits ( Paris, 1992), the large volume comprising all Honegger's writings, is a great complement to this book. That volume contains, among other things, the well-known collection of interviews with Bernard Gavoty that was published under the title Je suls compositeur (I Am a Composer), which, though long out of print, is still an indispensable document for anyone seeking to trace Honegger's creative processes, his working methods, or his aesthetic orientation. In preparing this portrait I have also had recourse as often as possible to unpublished documents, especially the small school notebooks in which, particularly at the end of his life, Honegger noted down thoughts and reflections, together with quotations and newspaper cuttings that caught his eye.

This third portion of the book is presented in the form of a triptych. The first part of it describes Honegger's physical appearance and his character; the second synthesizes the details of his musical language; and the third attempts to evaluate, albeit provisionally, the composer's place in the music of the twentieth century and in the overall history of the art.

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