Darius Milhaud

From New World Encyclopedia

Darius Milhaud (darjys mijo) (September 4, 1892 – June 22, 1974) was a French composer and teacher. He was a member of Les Six—also known as the Groupe des Six—and one of the most prolific composers of the twentieth century. His compositions are particularly noted as being influenced by jazz and for their use of polytonality (music in more than one key at once). As Milhaud used bitonality or tritonality in his compositions, listeners could distinguish the different use of keys because of the contrast between the tone color, rhythm and register. Thus, Milhaud demonstrated that if there were greater frames of reference available to the listeners, they could then equate it to being able to relate to a wider portion of one's world rather than concentrating only on oneself.


Born to a Jewish family in Aix-en-Provence, Milhaud studied in Paris at the Paris Conservatory where he met his fellow group members Arthur Honegger and Germaine Tailleferre. He studied musical composition under Charles Widor and harmony and counterpoint with André Gédalge. In addition he studied privately with Vincent d'Indy. As a young man he worked for a while in the diplomatic entourage of Paul Claudel, the eminent poet and dramatist, who was serving as ambassador to Brazil.

On a trip to the United States in 1922, Darius Milhaud heard "authentic" jazz for the first time, on the streets of Harlem, which left a great impact on his musical outlook. Using some jazz movements, the following year, he finished composing "La Création du Monde" ("The Creation of the World"), which was cast as a ballet in six continuous dance scenes.

He left France in 1939 and immigrated to America in 1940 (his Jewish background made it impossible for him to return to his native country until after the Liberation); he secured a teaching post at Mills College in Oakland, California.

From 1947 to 1971 he taught alternate years at Mills and the Paris Conservatoire, until poor health, which caused him to use a wheelchair during his later years (beginning sometime before 1947), compelled him to retire. He died in Geneva.

Compositional Techniques and Significant Works

Milhaud (like his contemporaries Paul Hindemith, Bohuslav Martinů and Heitor Villa-Lobos) was an extremely rapid creator, for whom the art of writing music seemed almost as natural as breathing. His most significant works include Le Boeuf sur le Toit (ballet), La Création du Monde (a ballet for small orchestra with solo saxophone, influenced by jazz), Scaramouche (for Saxophone and Orchestra, transcribed also for two pianos), and Saudades do Brazil (dance suite). His autobiography is titled Notes Sans Musique (Notes Without Music), later revised as Ma Vie Heureuse (My Happy Life).

Musical Output

Note that the following list represents only a tiny proportion of Milhaud's output; his opus list ended at 443.


  • Christophe Colomb (1930)
  • Médée, text by Madeleine Milhaud (his wife and cousin) (1939)
  • Bolivar (1950)


  • L'Homme et son désir, Op. 48, for four wordless singers, solo wind, percussion, and strings
  • '"Le Boeuf sur le Toit," Op. 58 (1919, after Cocteau)
  • La Création du Monde, Op. 81, for small orchestra (1923)


  • Symphonies
    • Symphony No. 1
    • Symphony No. 2
    • Symphony No. 3
    • Symphony No. 4
    • Symphony No. 5
    • Symphony No. 6
    • Symphony No. 7
    • Symphony No. 8
    • Symphony No. 9
    • Symphony No. 10
    • Symphony No. 11
    • Symphony No. 12
  • Saudades do Brazil, Op. 67 (1920, initially for piano, arr. for orchestra)
  • Suite provençale, Op. 152b, for orchestra (1937)

Solo Violin

    • Le Printemps, for solo violin and small orchestra


  • Piano
    • Cinq Études pour piano et orchestre, Op. 63 (1920)
    • 5 Concertos for piano and orchestra
    • Le Carneval d'Aix, Op. 83b, fantasy for piano and orchestra (1926)
  • other
    • 4 Concertos for violin and orchestra
    • 2 Concertos for cello and orchestra
  • Scaramouche, for alto saxophone and orchestra (1939, rearrangement of the original theatre music for saxophone and small ensemble)
    • I. Vif
    • II. Modéré
    • III. Brazileira
  • Concerto pour batterie et petit orchestre, Op. 109, concerto for percussion and small orchestra


  • Suite française, Op. 248 (1944)
    • 1. Normandie
    • 2. Bretagne
    • 3. Île de France
    • 4. Alsace-Lorraine
    • 5. Provence
  • West Point Suite, Op. 313 (1954)
  • Deux Marches, Op. 260 (1960)
    • Introduction
    • Marche funèbre
  • La Cheminée du Roi René (Woodwind Quintet)


  • Le bœuf sur le toit, for two pianos (1919)
  • "Saudades do Brazil," (1920) Botofogo
  • Scaramouche, transcription for two pianos of the original theatre music (1936, originally for saxophone and ensemble)


  • String quartets (The fourteenth and fifteenth string quartets can be performed separately as well as simultaneously as a string octet. For a curious nineteenth century example of a composer writing works for simultaneous performance, see Pietro Raimondi.)
    • String Quartet No. 1
    • String Quartet No. 2
    • String Quartet No. 3
    • String Quartet No. 4
    • String Quartet No. 5
    • String Quartet No. 6
    • String Quartet No. 7
    • String Quartet No. 8
    • String Quartet No. 9
    • String Quartet No. 10
    • String Quartet No. 11
    • String Quartet No. 12
    • String Quartet No. 13
    • String Quartet No. 14
    • String Quartet No. 15
    • String Quartet No. 16
    • String Quartet No. 17
    • String Quartet No. 18
    • 3 études sur des thèmes du Comté Venaissin (1973)


  • Machines agricoles, Op. 56, for one singer and seven instruments, with texts taken out of a catalogue for agricultural machines (1919)

Notable students

  • Burt Bacharach
  • Louis W. Ballard
  • William Bolcom
  • Dave Brubeck
  • Charles Dodge
  • Philip Glass (During a summer camp where he challenged Aaron Copland's opinion)
  • Stanley Hollingsworth
  • Vincent McDermott
  • Steve Reich
  • Neil Rolnick
  • Benjamín Gutiérrez Sáenz
  • Bill Smith (jazz musician)
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen (though he left his studies early)
  • Morton Subotnick
  • Gloria Wilson Swisher
  • Iannis Xenakis

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Collaer, Paul, Jane Hohfeld Galante, and Madeleine Milhaud. "Darius Milhaud." San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Press, 1988. ISBN 0-911-30262-X
  • Kelly, Barbara L. "Tradition and style in the works of Darius Milhaud, 1912-1939." Aldershot, Hants; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003. ISBN 0-754-63033-1
  • Milhaud, Darius. "Notes without music, an autobiography." NY: Knopf, 1953. OCLC 602184


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