Friday, January 14, 2011

Arthur Honegger - Symphonies 1-5 + Pacific 231

2004; 2 discs
Michel Plasson / Orchestre du Capital du Toulouse

Arthur Honegger was a Swiss composer, born in France, and member of Les Six. His style is similar to that of Milhaud's and Poulenc's, certainly, but there's an odd edge found here in his symphonies, particularly the first. This might have to do with the natural primitism underground artists and those dabbling in Dadaism might have found appealing. Les Six was a group of composers based in France who sought to fight against impressionism and, at times, art itself. This has prompted some to take the composers as Dadaist, or of the same artistic standpoints a Dadaist (Dadaists were avant-garde artists during the first world war who produced art that was... not art). But I cannot really judge this. Honegger's overall brash and manly sound contrasts darkly with the airiness of his contemporaries, I think, which makes me wonder what the purposes of these men truly were. Apparently the six were terribly different in thought, but shared their love of music. It is completely rational to consider these men as simply avant-garde composers who enjoyed cubist and surrealist art, working against the artistic structures of the time to create an entirely new approach to music. Satie and his "furniture music" is one example... "Art that hides art." They were influenced by literary figures such as Jean Cocteau and Ornella Volta, as well as the great artistic minds of the time, most notably Pablo Picasso.

According to his site, Arthur Honegger's music "is characterised by a great sense of architecture which allows him to mix all the different languages and musical techniques of his era. His music serves a humanist concept that is completly in phase with the major questions of the twentieth century." That explains his music perfectly - a great sense of architecture. Honegger loved trains, the suite Pacific 231 being about a train in particular. It's interesting how how many early 20th century composers were so fascinated with trains and the industrial revolution.

I think this quote nicely illustrates the apotheosis of Honegger's musical aesthetic:

"I do not worship the fair, or the music-hall, but chamber music and symphony music for its essence of solemness and austerity. I place such importance in the architecture of music that I would never want to see it sacrificed for reasons of literary or pictorial order. I have a tendency (maybe a little exaggerated) to look for the polyphonic complexity. I am not trying to return to a harmonious simplicity, like some anti-impressionist musicians. On the contrary, I think that we should use the harmonic material created by the school of thought that preceeded us, but in a different way, as a base for figure and rythym."

Disc 1
Disc 2


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