Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)





Donald Macleod presents works reflecting Milhaud's relationship with Provence's landscape.

Donald Macleod explores the globetrotting world of the 20th century French composer Darius Milhaud.

A member of the influential group, Les Six, these days Milhaud's rather unfairly known through just a handful of works.

In fact, as this week of his music demonstrates, he was a prolific composer who wrote in every imaginable style for every conceivable combination of instruments.

At the time of his death, aged 81, in 1974, his catalogue contained over 440 works.

One of the more fascinating aspects of Milhaud is how the veritable cocktail of musical genres he engaged with mirror his experiences in life.

His Provençale childhood gave him a love of the landscape of Southern France and a pride in his ancient Jewish ancestry.

A lifelong attachment to literature which began with the symbolist poets of his youth also found musical expression.

A great admiration for the music of Debussy and a strong dislike of Wagner, juxtaposes with his interests in the avant garde movement and jazz clubs of 1920s Paris.

A sojourn in Brazil during the first world war introduced the rhythms of Latin America, while a later spell in America encouraged a series of symphonies and chamber works.

We begin the week with works that reflect this relationship with the Provençale landscape and his religious roots, including a song from his Poèmes juifs collection, settings of eight anonymous Jewish poems, a movement from his first string quartet, which he dedicated to the Aix-en-Provence born painter Cézanne, and his colourful tapestry of the sunlit colours of the region, Suite Provençale.


Donald Macleod introduces Darius Milhaud's musical evocations of Brazil.

A chance meeting with the writer and diplomat Paul Claudel resulted in a fruitful and long artistic collaboration for Darius Milhaud.

It also led to an opportunity to accompany Claudel as part of the French legation in Brazil in 1917.

Milhaud arrived in Rio at Carnival time and was immediately entranced by the sights and sounds that surrounded him.

The vibrant forest on the edge of Rio found expression in Claudel and Milhaud's poème plastique, l'homme et son Désir, while the dance rhythms would turn up years afterwards in the orchestral suite Saudades do Brasil.


Donald Macleod considers Darius Milhaud's role as a member of the artistic group les Six.

In post-war Paris Darius Milhaud became part of an artistic community that was close-knit and buzzing with ideas.

He experimented with different forms, gaining some notoriety as well as a name for himself among the critics.

One of them, Henri Collet bracketed his name with five other French contemporaries, dubbing them Les Six.

In today's episode Donald Macleod considers what being part of this seemingly disparate group meant to Darius Milhaud, with works including an excerpt from the experimental studies for piano and orchestra, opus 63 and the miniature vocal work Catalogue des Fleurs.

Alongside his increasing reputation as a composer, Milhaud developed a career as a soloist and it's for this role that he produced Le Carnaval d'Aix.


Donald Macleod focuses on Milhaud's activities during the Second World War.

The German occupation of France forced Darius Milhaud to flee.

He and his family set off for America with little money and no idea of what life in exile would offer.

By the time he arrived in New York Milhaud had already received a telegram offering him a teaching post at a college in California.

In 1939 Milhaud had received a commission from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

It turned into the first of Milhaud's twelve symphonies, acting as a calling card for his future activities.

In the US he taught, performed and received a steady stream of commissions for music.

Among his concertos the first one he produced for cello stands out for its lightness and gaiety.

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Donald Macleod on the effect Darius Milhaud's self-avowed happy life had on his music.

Being confined to a wheelchair for twenty-six years didn't diminish Darius Milhaud's pleasure in life one bit.

Characteristically upbeat he readily acknowledged that a principle source of his happiness came through his marriage to his cousin Madeleine.

Together they continued to travel all over Europe and the US.

After spending the war years in America, the Milhauds returned to Paris and subsequently divided their time between the two continents.

Milhaud defined himself as both a Frenchman from Provence and a Jew.

The Psalms of David reflect his attachment to his faith while compositions like the Stanford Serenade which he wrote in 1969 fill the air with Mediterranean colour.

By contrast Kentuckiana brings alive Milhaud's natural ability to soak up the culture surrounding him.