Arthur Honegger – Christmas Cantata – 1954 – Past Daily Gramophone Weekend: Holiday Special
Just in time for Christmas. Again from the French Radio Transcription collection. Here is a 1955 radio broadcast performance of A Christmas Cantata by Arthur Honegger, featuring Baritone Pierre Mollet, Maurice Duruflè, Organ. The Chorus of the ORTF, conducted by Yvonne Gouvernè. The Children’s Choir of the ORTF, conducted by Jacques Jouineau and The French National Orchestra, conducted by Jean Martinon.
By all indications, this is the first radio performance of the work, having been completed by Honegger in 1953. As with all of these French Radio transcription discs, there are no performance or recording dates, so it’s more a question of taking an educated guess than digging through mountains of paperwork.
Arthur Honegger was a Swiss composer of exceptional talent and insight. As a founding member of the legendary les Groups des Six, Honegger made a mark in the music world very early on. And his death in 1955 robbed the music world of one of is more brilliant lights.
The Christmas Cantata comes from 1953 and it is was his last. Earlier in his life he was a very prolific composer of a wide variety of material and one of his most notable early works was Pacific 231, composed in 1923 and became something of his calling card as well as the choral work Le Roi David which is still frequently performed throughout the world.
The principal elements of Honegger’s style are: Bachian counterpoint, driving rhythms, melodic amplitude, highly coloristic harmonies, an impressionistic use of orchestral sonorities, and a concern for formal architecture. His style is weightier and more solemn than that of his colleagues in Les Six. Far from reacting against German romanticism as the other members of Les Six did, Honegger’s mature works show evidence of a distinct influence by it. Despite the differences in their styles, he and fellow Les Six member Darius Milhaud were close friends, having studied together at the Paris Conservatoire. Milhaud dedicated his fourth string quintet to Honegger’s memory, while Francis Poulenc similarly dedicated his Clarinet Sonata.
So it’s only fitting that, on Christmas Eve, we turn the stage over to Arthur Honegger and his Christmas Cantata.