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Artur Honegger ( 1892 - 1955 )


Oscar Arthur Honegger was born on the tenth of March, 1892 in Le Havre, France, from Swiss parents. While not a child prodigy, he did show talent because music was important in the Honegger family. His mother played the piano and Arthur initially learned to play the violin. Due to a lack of music tailored for an ensemble of piano and two or more violins, Arthur began to compose a few ragged pieces. It was not until 1909, when Arthur enrolled in the Zurich Conservatory, that his music began to take a more professional and learned character. Two years later he moved back to France and registered in the Paris Conservatory, where he studied violin with Lucien Capet and counterpoint with André Gédalge. At the end of the First World War (during which he as briefly called into service to protect the Swiss borders) his studies at the Paris Conservatory had ended. By now Arthur had composed a number of works for violin, cello, piano, and combinations of these.

In January 1920, Honegger found himself a member of a new group of composers named Les Six, which besides himself consisted of Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Louis Durey, Georges Auric, and Germaine Tailleferre. The group jointly published an album of piano pieces, the "Album des Six", and in 1921 Milhaud, Auric, Tailleferre, Honegger, and Poulenc collaborated to provide the music to Jean Cocteau's Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel. The group was not a great success and by the mid 1920's the members dispersed to pursue their own careers (though every so often they would reunite).

It was during the 1920's where Honegger found his great success. His symphonic movement no. 1 "Pacific" H.53 (1923) and the oratorio Le Roi David H.37 (1921) are his crowning achievements. It was also around this time that he composed his Concertino for Piano and Orchestra H.55 (1924). Special mention should also be made of his five symphonies. Arthur married Andrée Vaurabourg, a former pupil at the Paris Conservatory, in 1926. They had one daughter in 1932.

While Honegger was not a typical piano composer, and was drawn more to composing symphonies, ballets, operas, he by no means neglected the piano and wrote for it throughout his life. Some of his major works are the Toccata and variations H.8 (1916), Sept Pièces Brèves H.25 (1925), and the Prélude, Arioso, and Fughetta on the name BACH H.81 (1932). His body of piano works is a small but important part of 20th century piano literature, showing his talent in fusing Bach-like counterpoint with modern harmonies and rhythms within a strict formal musical architecture.

Honegger died on the twenty-seventh of November, 1955, as a result of a heart attack with coronary complications. Despite having worked in France most of his life, he remained a Swiss citizen all his life, and it is the Swiss twenty franc note that bears his portrait.

-- Julius Grocholski (more on the author...)


Recordings
Sept Pièces Breves