Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Arthur Honegger in Kansas City; "a Twentieth century Bach" and "at least a better pianist than Ravel."

Kansas City was fortunate to have an active chapter of the Pro-Musica organization in the 1920's. Ravel, Bartok and Prokofiev all toured the US and made a stop to perform in Kansas City, thanks to this group. (hopefully you have read those entries of this blog). Another composer who also came to KC was Arthur Honegger (1892-1955). Honegger was as a member of Les Six, a group of composers comprised of Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, and Germaine Tailleferre. He studied with both Vincent d'Indy and Charles-Marie Widor. On February 21, 1929, he gave a performance at the Hotel Baltimore. Here is the review from the Kansas City Times published the next day, February 22, 1929.

Arthur Honegger's Music Fascinates Pro Musica at a Concert in the Hotel Baltimore.

It is necessary to put a damper on one's enthusiasm after an application of Arthur Honegger, else one would disgrace oneself with the stock cliches of the profession-"great art," great artist," and so forth. At least it seemed so after the end of the concert given by Honegger, his wife, Andree Vaurabourg-Honegger, the pianist, and the contralto Mlle. Berty Jenny, for Pro Musica. The concert was last night in the Francis I room of the Hotel Baltimore.
The harmonic dodges of the moderns are common property. Anyone can apply minor seconds to the idea in his head, and thus produce a pierce sounding very much like late Bartok, Casella, or whatnot. They may cloak the fact that the second is the base of their harmony under a variety of disguises, but the fact endures.
Wherefore, when a man such as Honegger arrives with the technic of the modern absolutely at his command, and, in addition, with ideas for its use, the occasion is for rejoicing. It is precisely the case of Ravel over and over again, excepting that where Ravel's ideas tend toward the esoteric, Honegger's are lusty and full of what Americans sometimes call "kick." Each man is an intellect; each intellect is individual.
The program included the throe "Songs of the Siren," the "Chanson de Rosard" and four from miscellaneous sources (two being settings of Paul Fort). Mlle. Jenny sang so that every effect reached her audience, so that, in fact, the dullest might see that Honegger was not a great writer of songs. What imagery there was in the songs (excepting the three charming "Songs of the Siren") was too often mere imitation of nature or something else.
But the program included also a toccata and variations for piano written in 1916; the "Sept Pieces Breves," written three years later, and the suite for two pianos completed late last year. There one found the true Honegger, the climax of whose thought Kansas City is dented for want of an orchestra. It was proved that here, at last, is a man with the modern idiom perfectly controlled, who has important ideas and the intellectual balance to execute them. There was to be found amazingly intelligent counterpoint, unorthodox though it may be. The rhythmic element was emphatic, original, deftly maneuvered.
The young French-Swiss might very well be a Twentieth century Bach. His employment of both the old and new resources has in it that feeling of intelligent, irresistible progress toward a viable and worthy goal one finds in the older man. There is no spurious manipulation of threadbare themes, but the creation of new ones of gorgeous beauty. There is no sultry, overemotional feeling, but an earthy tang. It should be added that Honegger is the first modern of this writer's experience able to create a melody on that lofty character possessed by the chorale of the 2-piano suite and sustain its mood for so long without one instant's loss of nobility.
Mme. Honegger is a first rate pianist possessed of all technical requirements, afire with admiration of her husband's music, and so an ideal interpreter of it. Her husband is at least a better pianist than Ravel, and played nice accompaniments.

J. A. S.

Here is one of my favorite pieces by Honegger, his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.

Honegger loved trains. (so too did Dvorak). One of his famous quotes was: "I have always loved locomotives passionately. For me they are living creatures and I love them as others love women or horses."

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