It was with the encouragement of Miklós Rósza that Honegger arranged a suite from his music for Raymond Bernard’s epic film of the Victor Hugo novel Les Misérables. The original film, completed in 1934, was in three 90-minute episodes, later abridged by the director to one, a change that necessitated cuts in Honegger’s score.
The sombre Générique, for the main title, has been lengthened by the addition of the following cue, a pastoral accompaniment to Jean Valejan sur la route, its final six bars replaced by a single final bar. L’Émeute has also been extended, using an earlier cue, Fuite de Jean Valejan, resulting in a rather hurried coda. Mort de Valejan has been shortened to avoid the ten-bar lyrical expansion which accompanied the death of the old man, memorably played in the film by Harry Baur. The ten bars omitted have been replaced by two simple bars of pizzicato cellos with harp. Dans les Égouts, cut from the abridged film, is retained in its original form, as well as the Musique chez Gillenormand.
Honegger’s autograph contains 23 cues and is scored for symphony orchestra, including saxophone, piano, harp and percussion, and, interestingly, omitting double basses throughout. The Suite only exists in a copyist’s version, which may have been prepared on the instructions of the composer. In the present recording wind parts have been doubled where necessary and the number of cellos increased. Musique chez Gillenormand, on the other hand, uses an ensemble of string octet, with solo wind, to recreate the chamber character of the music.
The composer himself called this a "first" suite, making it clear that the possibility remains of making a further suite from the remaining music for the film.