Darius Milhaud

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)

Nationality: French | Jewish
Born: September 4, 1892, Marseilles Died: June 22, 1974, Geneva (age 81)

La Création du monde (Suite de concert pour piano et quatour à cordes), Op. 81

(for 2 violins, viola, cello and piano)
I. Prélude
II. Fugue
III. Romance
IV. Scherzo
V. Final
Duration: 17 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1923 (age 30-31)
1 recordings, 1 videos
Contemporary Chamber Ensemble
From Kai Christiansen

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)

La Création du monde, Op. 81b (1923)

Darius Milhaud was a remarkably prolific 20th Century French composer who established his reputation in the 1920's along with a generation of young avant-garde composers, artists and writers in the modernist ferment of Paris. Some of Milhaud's most enduring work reflects "foreign", exotic influences he acquired during his travels: popular Brazilian dance music for Carnival and early American Jazz. He first heard Jazz in Paris and then, in New York, where Milhaud went out of his way to Harlem seeking out the nascent art in its most ideal context. Milhaud wrote that he was intoxicated by Jazz, particularly with some early female blues vocalists, where he sensed a deep, more primal aesthetic legacy from Africa. Back in Paris, Milhaud teamed up with a designer and writer on a production for the Swedish Ballet about the creation of the world based on African folklore featuring exotic deities with supernatural powers. Milhaud found it a perfect vehicle to express his Jazz affinities and the result was the successful ballet la Création du monde which debuted in 1923, the year a young Louis Armstrong made his very first recording and one year before the debut of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Op. 81b is an arrangement of the five-movement ballet for string quartet and piano. It is a remarkable example of early Jazz impressions influencing a Classical sensibility. Rather astonishingly, it begins with a prelude and fugue. The prelude is atmospheric, tense, melancholic and mildly discordant. The fugue is bright, sassy and rhythmically jaunty with a subject featuring the classic blues notes (flattened 3rds and 7ths). The third movement Romance is a jewel: it begins with the most famous blues riff of all time (the leering dominant 7th) leading into a suave ballad recalling the slower ragtime character pieces and fully anticipating Gershwin. The Scherzo is jagged, nervous and urban, perhaps the clearest homage to what Milhaud must have heard and felt in Harlem. The finale ties it all together in a kind of epilogue joining riff-based blue notes, jazz rhythms and melancholic interludes in a welter of polyphony. Rather significantly, Milhaud can't quite end on a dominant 7th as a jazz or bluesman might: he opts for the more classical major 7th in the manner of his friend, contemporary and compatriot Erik Satie.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.

From Edition Silvertrust

Darius Milhaud Le Creation du Monde can be traced back Milhaud’s 1920 trip to London where he first encountered jazz. He was so enamored of it, that he planned a trip to Harlem in New York City, the home of the so called “real jazz". In 1922, he traveled to New York, visiting Harlem where he spent his time mingling with jazz musicians. The experience made a lasting impression on him. When he returned to Paris, to his surprise, he found that jazz had already arrived. The black American jazz singer Josephine Baker, then active in Paris was immensely popular, and the sounds of Le Jazz Hot could be heard in all of the caberets over the city. Milhaud began writing in what he called a jazz idiom, using the melodies and rhythms of the blues. La Creation du Monde was meant to be a ballet. The score called for a small orchestra of seventeen instruments. The ballet was an immediate success, many said because of the risqué costumes. Nonetheless, at the suggestion of friends, Milhaud also made a version for piano and string quartet shortly thereafter. In five movements, the work opens with a melancholy Prelude which has many of the elements heard later. Next comes a lively jazzy Fugue. The third movement is a gentler Romance. Then comes a rollicking Scherzo. The finale, the longest of the movements, has all of the moods of the preceding movements and is a summation.

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) was born in in the French city of Marsailles. He studied composition at the Paris Conservatory with Charles-Marie Widor and became a member of the so called "Les Six", a group of modernist French composer who were active during the first part of the 20th century. During the course of his long career, he frequently traveled abroad, sometimes for pleasure, sometimes from necessity. During the First World War, Milhaud served as secretary to the French ambassador to Brazil. During the Second World War, he moved to America during the Nazi occupation of France. The sights and sounds of the cultures of he saw always interested him. In his music one often hears the sounds of Brazilian dances and American, but also the “modern” trends of French music during the 1910s and 1920s.

© Edition Silvertrust. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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