Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes

Arthur Honegger (1892-1955)

Sonatine for Violin and Cello (1932)

Honegger was born of Swiss parents in La Havre, France. His mother provided his earliest musical education. He attended the Zurich Conservatory, and later the Paris Conservatory, where he studied under Widor and Vincent d'Indy. He first came to prominence at the end of the First World War as one of a group of young French composers known as Les Six. Les Six represented what were then radical trends in French music. Despite the efforts of that consummate publicity manager, Jean Cocteau, who arranged collaborative Dada theatricals and concerts, the members of the short-lived group soon went their separate ways. In past seasons the Sierra Chamber Society has featured works by the two most prominent members of Les Six, Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc.

Honegger's reputation was firmly established by such works as Pacific 231, an orchestral portrait of a steam locomotive (1923) and the oratorio Le Roi David (1923), which pays homage to the works of Handel. Honegger never shared the enthusiasm of Le Six for jazz and the music-hall idiom, or neo-classic simplicity. His music has an earnest, serious quality. The harmonies are often dense, the rhythms muscular, and the orchestrations reminiscent of Mahler and Berlioz, rather that the light, facile style cultivated by many of his contemporaries.

The Sonatine was composed in 1932. It is a tour-de-force of two part writing; baroque-like polyphony is juxtaposed with folk-like elements. The large, central slow movement is in three sections, opening in aria style, followed by a fugal section, and then returning to the initial mode. The last movement, which contains stuttering rhythms reminiscent of Stravinsky, offsets a jaunty Gallic tune with an amusing episode in which the violin, with mock virtuosity, spins out a hysterical solo against an ostinato scraped out by the cello. A variant of this episode returns later when the two instruments exchange parts. The movement ends with a succession of jerky little phrases punctuated by a cello pizzicato.

1992-93 Season, Program I, Saturday September 26, 1992

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