Composers Datebook®

Honegger plays rough

Composer's Datebook - October 19, 2023


Rugby is a style of football that originated in England at Rugby School and was played at British public boy’s schools during the 19th century.

It’s also the name of a tone poem written by Swiss composer Arthur Honegger that premiered in Paris at the Théâtre des Champes-Elysées on today’s date in 1928 at the first concert of the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris.

In describing his tone poem, Honegger wrote: “I’m very fond of soccer, but rugby is closer to my heart. … I’m more keenly attracted by rugby’s rhythm, which is savage, abrupt, chaotic and desperate. It would be wrong to consider my piece as program music. It simply tries to describe in musical language the game’s attacks and counterattacks, and the rhythm and color of a match.”

Now, you would think in such a slam-bang contact sport as rugby that Honegger would employ a big battery of percussion instruments, but — surprise — they are totally absent in his score. Not to worry. There is plenty of rough ‘n’ tumble action between the strings, woodwinds and brass, but fortunately no protective headgear is required by either the performers or the listeners.

Music Played in Today's Program

Arthur Honegger: Rugby

On This Day


  • 1903 - American composer Vittorio Giannini, in Philadelphia;

  • 1916 - Swedish composer Karl-Birgir Blomdahl, in Växjö;

  • 1943 - British composer Robin Holloway, in Leamington Spa;


  • 1845 - Wagner: opera "Tannhäuser" (Dresden version), in Dresden at the Hoftheater;

  • 1894 - Chadwick: Symphony No. 3, by the Boston Symphony, Emil Paur conducting;

  • 1901 - Elgar: "Pomp and Circumstance" March No. 1 in D, in Liverpool, by the Liverpool Orchestral Society;

  • 1905 - Sibelius: Violin Concerto (revised version), in Berlin, conducted by Richard Strauss and with Karl Halir the soloist; The first version of this concerto premiered under the composer's director in Helsinki, with Victor Novácek as soloist, on February 8, 1904, but the composer withdrew this version and revised the concerto;

  • 1922 - Mussorgsky: "Pictures at an Exhibition" in the orchestration by Maurice Ravel, in Paris, Serge Koussevitzky conducting;

  • 1928 - Honegger: symphonic movement, "Rugby," in Paris;

  • 1953 - Morton Gould: "Inventions for Four Pianos and Orchestra" by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Mitropoulos;

  • 1964 - Virgil Thomson: "Autumn" (Concertino for harp, strings, and percussion), at the American-Spanish Festival of Music in Madrid, with Nicanor Zabeleta the harp soloist and Enrique Jordá conducting

  • 1967 - Gershwin: public premiere of "Lullaby" for string quartet (composed c. 1919-20), at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., by the Juilliard String Quartet; During his lifetime, Gershwin would occasionally arrange impromptu performances of this piece at parties if sufficient string players were in attendance;

  • 1990 - Shulamit Ran: "Symphony," by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Gary Bertini conducting; This work won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1991;

  • 1996 - John Adams's Clarinet Concerto "Gnarly Buttons" with soloist Michael Collins and the London Sinfonietta conducted by the composer;


  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in a, Op. 6, no. 4 (see Julian date: Oct. 8);

  • 1933 - German conductor and composer Otto Klemperer leads his first concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; The program includes Leo Weiner's transcription of J.S. Bach's "Toccata and Fugue" in d, Stravinsky's "Petrouchka" Ballet Suite, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®