Honegger’s Great Passion

Arthur Honegger

Today while I was doing research for an upcoming episode for my podcast, Classical Declassified, I came across the rather interesting figure of Arthur Honegger.

Arthur Honegger was a Swiss composer who was a member of a group known as ‘Les Six.’ This was a group of six mostly Swiss composers active from roughly the 1920s to the 1950s whose music is characterized mostly by being against both the style of Wagner, and the style of the impressionists.

In a century is full of curious events and colourful figures in classical music, Honegger’s music is not uncreative but his personality is almost outstanding in his blandness… but a rather unique brand of blandness.

Although Honegger was Swiss through his parents’ nationality, he was born and raised mostly in France, and attended the Paris Conservatory of Music and Dance. There he met and married pianist Andrée Vaurabourg, but did so on the condition that they live separately. And indeed, during their marriage they only lived together for one year after Vaurabourg was injured in a car accident, and at the end of Honegger’s life when he wasn’t capable of living on his own anymore. For years, Vaurabourg lived with her mother, and Honegger lived in a separate apartment and visited them for lunch every day.

Honegger was also known to be particularly fond of trains. And that’s putting it mildly. In his own words: “I have always loved locomotives passionately. For me they are living creatures and I love them as others love women or horses.”

I wonder how Vaurabourg felt about being put in a category alongside horses, and under locomotives.

It’s no surprise perhaps that Honegger’s best-known piece is a symphonic work called ‘Pacific 231’, a 1923 work depicting a steam engine locomotive.

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