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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Arthur Honegger - Symphonies 1 and 4 (1973)

Liner Notes:

The work of Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), a Swiss composer with close ties to French musical life and French culture, matured in the stormy and contradictory twenties and thirties of this century, when art discarded romantic subjectivism and mysticism to embrace openly the dynamism and variety characteristic of modern times. Honegger's early symphonic works, above all his Pacific 231 and Rugby, confirmed his affinity with the fresh and original aesthetics of The Six of Paris, but the philosophing composer's later works were inevitably different departures, in which he sensitively sought scope for spiritual, meditative activity of a musical creator in the less restricted opportunities for musical expression. Honegger's style becomes more monumental, more programmatic, and strives for greater general impact. The composer of much incidental music for the stage, radio and film, Honegger sought new outlets for music's social !unction, as well as an appropriate approach to the average listener. It was for the latter that he composed, above all, his eloquent oratorio frescoes on texts by French poets of the period, such as R. Morax (Le roi David, Judith), J. Cocteau (Antigone), P. Valéry (Amphion), P. Claudel (Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher, La danse des morts), and others. In these works, one can discover the essential elements of Honegger's creative confession. In his symphonic works, above all in his five symphonies, we can trace the process of his maturing as composer: his respect for musical tradition (particularly Baroque and early Classicist), his non-ostentatious programmatic and subjective approach (2nd Symphony, a reflection of the anxious wartime moods, 3rd Symphony, "Liturgical", of 1946, a dramatic protest against war, and 5th Symphony, "Di tre re", which reflects moods of depression which the composer felt towards the end of his life), his touch for clear, transparent form, his masterful polyphony, plus the sharp, expressive and dynamic rhythm that constitutes the source of Honegger's dramatic pathos.

The 1st Symphony of 1930 was not the product of a creative urge. Serge Koussevitzky, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's farsighted chief conductor, recognized the potential of Honegger's youthful talent and the promise inherent in Le roi David, and the 38-year-old composer never thought of rejecting a commission from a conductor of world renown. The result was a work which echoes—and, in a way, breaks with—the urgent, tumultuous onslaught of Pacific and Rugby. A break with the composer's initial creative stage, the 1st Symphony foreshadows the brilliancy of a work that was to emerge five years later, Jeanne d'Arc au hitcher. The restless and impatient chromatics and atonality of the 1st movement gives way to a more melodically expressive character of the 2nd movement, until the 3rd movement produces the becalming clear diatonics, simple form, and youthful flair.

The 4th Symphony for Chamber Orchestra of 1946 beers the sub-title "Deliciae Basilienses" (Pleasures of Basle). Written for Honegger's friend, conductor and patron Paul Sacher on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the latter's Basle Chamber Orchestra, the work is something in the nature of a benevolent divertimento, after the two symphonies of somewhat dramatic and tragical character. Indeed, Honegger himself considered the work to hate been conceived on Mozartian and Haydnian lines. The relaxed Swiss milieu of Paul Sacher's seat at Schönenberg, where Honegger often stayed and composed, is reflected in the 4th symphony's idyllic, even pastoral, parts. As the various themes of the Symphony's 1st movement merge to make the shape of the sonata form increasingly vague, that movement comes to assume the character of a free-form rhapsody. On the other hand, the 2nd movement is based on merely two themes, the second of which cites the old Swiss traditional song "Z'Basel an mim Rhy". The 3rd movement is "Swiss" as well: rondo-like in form, it mutes all other themes in the finale to give prominence to the quotation of the "Basler Morgenstreich" tune of 1200, the traditional carnival opening song. However, in the symphony the tune is the culmination of the fresh stream of music inspired by a happy moment in the composer's life.

Credits: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Serge Baudo

Track List:
  1. Symphony No. 1 - I Allegro marcato
  2. Symphony No. 1 - II Adagio
  3. Symphony No. 1 - III Presto
  4. Symphony No. 4 - I Lento e misterioso - Allegro
  5. Symphony No. 4 - II Larghetto
  6. Symphony No. 4 - III Allegro
Download Links: Enjoy the Music, or here.

Other Recordings of works by Arthur Honegger:

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