Composed in the aftermath of World War Two it is one of Honegger's best-known works. It is in three movements, each of which (following the symphony's subtitle) is named after the Latin Mass. The first movement, Dies irae, is marked allegro marcato, and has an aggressive, storm-like quality. Listeners may notice that this movement is another train ride, but more sinister than Pacific 231. The slow movement, De profundis clamavi, is in contrast meditative and lyrical. Its mode of procession suggests a long slow boat ride. The finale, Dona nobis pacem, is more episodic, with an insistent, marching rhythm building to a dissonant climax, before a long, lyrical coda concludes the work.
Honegger himself wrote an extensive commentary on the work, making explicit the music's connection with the horrors of the War, and the desire for peace.
It was first performed in Zurich on 17 August 1946 with Charles Munch conducting the Suisse Romande Orchestra. It has been performed and recorded many times, and was a speciality of Herbert von Karajan, who made a recording of it in 1973 which is still widely regarded as its finest interpretation.