French-born of German-Swiss parentage, Arthur Honegger retained Swiss nationality and studied in Zürich before moving to Paris, where he studied at the Conservatoire and fell under the influence of Satie.
Although he became one of the iconoclastic group of composers known as Les Six, he was the first to break away and compose music in a more serious mould than the flippant, jazz-tinged concoctions of his contemporaries: thus the first successes of his maturity were the 'mimed symphony' Horace Victorieux and the 'symphonic psalm' Le Roi David (both first performed in 1921).
He wrote much dramatic music - not only operas and ballets, but also incidental music for radio, theatre and film. Despite being one of the most significant composers of his generation, much of his music has faded from the repertory since his death in 1955, following a debilitating heart attack eight years earlier; his most-performed work today is the 'symphonic movement' Pacific 231, an effective musical depiction of a locomotive, which hides a deeper symphonic thought beneath its surface orchestral mastery.
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