The Kennedy Center

Arthur Honegger


Oscar Arthur Honegger

Birth:  Mar. 10, 1892 Le Havre, France          
Death:  Nov. 27, 1955 Paris

Arthur Honegger was a Swiss composer in many genres, writing for the theatre, concert hall and for the cinema.  He found notoriety as a member of Les Six, a group of irreverent musicians who were rebellious against traditional ideas.  Best known for his signature composition Pacific 231, an example of descriptive music, sounds of a train in motion.  He was also pioneer of film music, he scored the masterpiece Napoleon and the French version of Les Miserables.

Oscar Arthur Honegger was born to Swiss-German Protestants parents in Le Havre, France.  He was the oldest of four children, he studied the violin and harmony with R.C. Martin as a child in Le Havre.  He then spent two years at the Zürich Conservatory where his teachers included Friedrich Hegar in composition, Willem de Boer, violin and Lothar Kempter music theory.  In 1911 he enrolled at the Paris Conservatory and studied under teachers André Gedalge and Charles Widor. 

He opted to keep his Swiss citizenship and enter Swiss military from 1914-1915 but he would later make Paris his permanent after World War l.  While attending the Pairs Conservatory he joined Les Six.  This group of goal was to do away with oppressive music and write music that was derived from popular culture.  The publicity surrounding this group helped toward launching his career.  Oddly enough he became internationally famous for his works that were at odds against the artistic views this group.  In 1926 he married Andrée Vaurabourg a pianist and fellow student at the Paris Conservatory. They had one daughter Pascale and he had a son, Jean-Claude with the singer Claire Croiza.|

With the outbreak of the World War II and the invasion of the Nazis, he became trapped in Paris.  He joined the French Resistance because he had a hatred of war but not a hatred of the Germans.  His public association with Nazi officials during the wartime led to his expulsion from the Resistance.  French musicians imposed a six-month ban against him, although he would later be elected as a foreign member to the Music Institute of France and in 1954 named a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor.  He died of a heart attack on November 27, 1955.  Years after his death his reputation had a strange resurgence and his portrait is now featured on the Swiss 20 franc banknote.  

Arthur Honegger


  • Pacific 231