Arthur Honegger

By Harry Halbreich; Roger Nichols | Go to book overview

SEVENTEEN

Political and Social Ideas;
The Role of the Composer

No trace of any political or social preoccupations can be found in Arthur Honegger's writings or his music before 1930. From this point of view, Cris du monde marks the great turning point, as the first ideologically inspired work marking the beginning of a decade, at least, of "committed" compositions. This turning point coincided both with the grave world crisis that followed the Wall Street crash of October 1929 (a crisis that shattered the illusory prosperity of a dormant Europe now at the mercy of the appetites of totalitarian ideologies) and with Honegger's profound personal crisis. Honegger had been severely shaken by the semi-failures with the public of such central works as Judith, Antigone, and that same Cris du monde, and he turned his attention inward, asking himself questions about his function in society and the usefulness of his creative work. We shall see, in the following chapter, that this phase corresponded with a decade during which religious inspiration disappeared totally from his output.

Cris du monde warns against the danger of the enslavement of the individual by a continually encroaching collectivization, aggravated by the burden of state institutions and by the growing deterioration in what is now called the "quality of life," especially in the matter of noise pollution. This increasing restriction on the space reserved for individual freedom would continue to haunt the composer until his death, leading him gradually to a real hatred of all coercive political structures, a hatred that came close to anarchy. That hatred stemmed from the failure of a democratic ideal trampled by the triumphant march of Nazism and of Stalinism -- although, because the latter force held out for so long, the composer would die before he could see the end of it. War was the incarnation of absolute evil and of bestiality triumphant. Its denunciation does find a place in Cris du monde, but it would develop enormously in the works that followed, to the point where it became the other great leitmotif of a creative artist who had assumed the role of a Cassandra. Honegger's untiring pacifist crusade began in a lighthearted manner in the "Hymn of Tryphéme" so popular with King Pausole's subjects, and then rose to heights of tragic expression in Battements du monde and in the "Liturgical" Symphony (Symphonie liturgique), which could equally well have been called the "Symphony for Peace."

This imperious need for personal freedom and for a protected private

-580-

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