King David (1st version)

Honegger composed Le Roi David (King David)in 1921 as incidental music to a play by René Morax for the theatre of Mézi?res in Switzerland. The orchestration took into consideration the space constraints of the theatre. Accordingly, this original version calls for a 17-member ensemble consisting of winds and percussion, a double bass, piano, harmonium and celesta. In 1922 Morax and Honegger created a version for symphony orchestra that would establish the composer’s international reputation. (The incidental and concert versions only differ in terms of orchestration and the fact that in the concert version the action on stage is summed up by a narrator at key points in the plot.)
Morax’s drama is an adaptation of certain details of the story of King David, using the texts of the psalms. Most of the movements of the incidental music are very short and employ numerous stage-like gestures. In addition to the purely orchestral movements, vocal solos and duets and the choral movements, the instruments usually accompany prose texts. The 27 movements of the incidental music are connected by means of numerous tonal and thematic relations. Honegger sought to evoke many musical styles from the past and his own era, from Gregorian chant, Protestant chorale and Bach’s virtuoso choral polyphony to jazz. King David is divided into three main parts. A surprisingly long movement occupies almost the entire second part, ‘La dansedevantl’arche’ (The dance before the Ark). At the climax of the movement, before the closing ‘Halleluiah’ the angel (soprano solo with celesta tinkling in the background) prophesies that ‘[…] there will be born a son of yours / who shall reign over the nations. / And he shall be my son, and I shall be his Father. / His name will be the greatest of the earth. / His name will be a light for all. / And he shall be a son of David.’