Darius Milhaud

Darius Milhaud was one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century and member of Les Six (The Group of Six). Considered a modernist composer, the vast majority of his works contain polytonality and have strong jazz influences.

Milhaud was born in Marseilles to a Jewish family and began his musical career as a violinist. While studying at the Paris Conservatory, he turned to composition. It was here where he would meet fellow “Les Six” members Arthur Honegger and Germaine Tailleferre , and study with Charles Widor, Andre Gedalge, Paul Dukas, and Vincent d’Indy.

Between 1917 and 1919, he served as secretary to Paul Claudel, who was the French ambassador to Brazil. Since Claudel was also a poet and dramatist, they collaborated on projects for many years, with Milhaud setting music to many of his poems and plays.

It was during a trip to the United States in 1922 when Milhaud was first exposed to authentic jazz music, heard on the streets of Harlem. The following year he wrote his infamous La creation du monde (The Creation of the World), a ballet in six continuous dance scenes, which is heavily influenced by jazz ideas.

Milhaud married his cousin Madeleine, an actress, in 1925. They would have one son, Daniel, who was born in 1930. Madeleine passed away in January 2008, just a few months shy of her 106th birthday.

When the Nazi party invaded France in 1940, the Milhauds had no choice but to leave France and immigrate to the United States. He began teaching at Mills College in California, where one of his most famous students, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, would continue his music studies in the late 1940s. Although Mills is a women’s college, men were allowed in graduate programs, and Brubeck said he specifically sought it out for the sole reason to study with Milhaud. Another famous former student of Milhaud is popular songwriter Burt Bacharach, whom he famously instructed, “don’t be afraid of writing something people can remember and whistle”.

Between 1947 and 1971, Milhaud taught alternate years at Mills College and the Paris Conservatoire until poor health (mainly crippling arthritis) caused him to retire. Though he was no longer able to teach, he did continue to compose and conduct. He died in Geneva at the age of 81, and is buried in the Saint-Pierre Cemetery.

An immensely prolific composer who wrote in a multitude of genres, Darius Milhaud’s opus list ended at 443. Among his vast works are movie scores, symphonies, choral works, chamber music, incidental music, operas, and string quartets. Although frequently dissonant, his music retains a largely lyrical quality.

Click below to view Darius Milhaud titles:

Symphonic Orchestra   Solo & Ensemble


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