Honegger, Arthur (1892–1955) By Waters, Keith
Composer Arthur Honegger was one of a group of six young French composers, known as Les Six, in the forefront of post-WWI Parisian musical modernism. Les Six (Honegger, Francis Poulenc (1899–1963), Darius Milhaud (1892–1974), Georges Auric (1899–1983), Germaine Tailleferre (1892–1983), and Louis Durey (1888–1979)) frequently presented their work together. They were championed by author Jean Cocteau (1889–1963) and loosely associated with composer Erik Satie (1866–1925). Contemporary critics noted a seriousness and profundity to Honegger’s music that contrasted with that of the other members. Honegger’s instrumental compositions, such as his chamber and symphonic works, often cultivated large multi-movement formal structures. Several of his oratorios (for orchestra, chorus, and soloists) treated biblical topics. He also wrote operas, songs, music for ballet, and film scores. Early works, such as the 1921 oratorio Le Roi David and the 1923 symphonic work Pacific 231 (which musically depicts the acceleration and deceleration of a steam locomotive) helped seal Honegger’s international reputation as a modernist whose music was nevertheless eclectic and accessible. Much of Honegger’s music is characterized by strong motoric rhythms, use of counterpoint and contrapuntal devices (imitation and fugue), and an inclusive harmonic language that uses tonality, extended tonality, and atonality.