Honegger’s mastery of fugue is illustrated in his Prélude, Fugue et Postlude
. This was first performed in 1948 by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Ernest Ansermet, but the music dates from much earlier, for Honegger extracted and arranged these three pieces from a major dramatic work for reciter, solo singers, chorus and orchestra, Amphion
, which he had composed in 1929 to a text by Paul Valéry. Written for Ida Rubinstein, Amphion
had been produced at the Paris Opéra in June 1931 but then forgotten after a few concert performances. The Prélude, Fugue et Postlude
can be regarded as an independent (and abstract) triptych, but Honegger nonetheless prefaced the score with Valéry’s summary of his drama: ‘Amphion, a mortal man, receives the lyre from Apollo. Music is born from the touch of his fingers. At the emerging sounds, the rocks move, join together: architecture is created. Just as the Hero is about to enter the temple, the figure of a veiled woman approaches him and bars his way. She is Love, or Death: Amphion buries his face in her breast and allows her to lead him away.’
It seems, therefore, that should we wish it we could seek a programmatic element, or at least an emotional correlative, in this triptych. The solemn, discreetly bitonal harmonies of the Prélude and the burgeoning strands of melody that follow could certainly be described as Apollonian, but a mood of striving provokes a climactic passage which leads up to the start of the Fugue. Based on a gawky, angular theme that starts effortfully in the bass, this movement might indeed evoke the movement of rocks, building through suaver countersubjects and episodes to a majestic architectural contrapuntal structure. It passes into a climax with a fateful tolling rhythm that eventually subsides to leave a more meditative mood of acceptance. The final span is lyrically elegiac, and the work ebbs away into the shadows in a spirit of Attic sobriety.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2008