Sunday, November 7, 2010

program note in progress: honegger's viola sonata

I can't decide if I love or hate Artur Honegger's Viola Sonata of 1920. At first (or second or third etc) glance, the three movements seem oddly mis-matched--more representative of an early twentieth century musical pastiche than a unified work. A smattering of recognizable futuristic gestures and contrapuntal textures appear in the first movement alongside nonfunctional harmonies reminiscent of Debussy. The second movement reads like a musical opium den, the third has obvious references to church bells. Seems simple enough: 1920s Paris, Les Six, Futurism, whole tone scales, blah blah blah.

Indeed, the reduction above explains my apathy towards the sonata. Nothing earth shattering, the sonata is disjointed and easy--a mere diversion.

But then. Something happened. Whilst organizing my books, I came across this volume. Almost immediately I recalled images of its gruesome contents (trench warfare); believe me when I say that I had nightmares for weeks after reading it.

Could one interpret Honegger's music as a response to WWI atrocities? Perhaps it is a stretch, but in the past few days, I certainly have given some thought to the realities of Paris in the 20s and the first World War. And isn't using music as a vehicle for deeper historical-cultural understanding the fun of being a "re-creative" artist?


  1. I like this Clare! I think "trench warfare" describes the piano part nicely :)

  2. haha! I think my current pianist would agree with you!