Death of H-number musicologist

Death of H-number musicologist


norman lebrecht

June 27, 2016

Radio France has announced the death of Harry Halbreich, the world authority on Olivier Messiaen and an indefatigable cataloguer of other composers. The works of Honegger and Martinu are listed in H numbers.

Berlin born, based in Belgium, he wrote at least a dozen composer biographies.

Harry was 85.

harry halbreich


  • Adam Stern says:

    I have long treasured Mr. Halbreich’s book on Arthur Honegger, one of the best biographies I know of a 20th-century composer. Rest in peace, sir.

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      Thank you for mentioning the existence of this book, Mr. Stern. Honegger is such an inspiring, underrated composer. I would give at least half of the Shostakovich symphonies for Honneger’s third. -all of them for Honegger’s fourth. Monsieur Halbreich was indeed a fine writer. I imagine he has not been translated into English.

      • Adam Stern says:

        Dear Mr. Greenberg,
        Thank you for your kind words. I couldn’t agree more about Honegger; I love the Third and the Fifth symphonies and, even more, the unbelievable “Joan of Arc at the Stake”, a work that’s almost too powerful for its own good. Another neglected piece I find very satisfying is the “Mouvement Symphonique No. 3”. Interesting that you should mention Shostakovich in the context you did: I have the score to an arrangement of the Honegger “Liturgique” for piano, four-hands that Shostakovich made, apparently out of his reverence for the work. Also, I couldn’t tell if you assumed the Honegger book wasn’t in English, but it most certainly is!

        Best regards,

        Adam Stern

        • Ruben Greenberg says:

          A musician friend here in France referred to Honegger as: “a Protestant Shostakovich”! Unfair, but “un bon mot”. Monsieur Halbreich’s biography of the composer has just been placed at the top of my summer reading list thanks to you. It’s a pity we wait until somebody is no longer with us to delve into his artistic production (in reference to Harry Halbreich). I’m as guilty as the next man of this.

  • Scott MacClelland says:

    For us music journalists this is a great loss. Harry was one-of-a-kind, as much an adored oddball as an authoritative opinion maker.

  • Eric says:

    RIP. A great character, source of knowledge and a tireless musicological investigator.

  • Günter Thiele says:

    Good as his book on Honegger is ,for many years his commented catalog of Bohuslav Martinus music was really the only reliable one outside the Czech Republic and indispensable for many of the to composers admirers trying to grasp his immense oeuvre. During forty years of listening to Martinu I was amazed how accurate and perceptive his evaluation of the music was, much of it neither recorded ore even performed at the time, and how seldom I had occasion to disagree. It is a shame it has never been translated into English.