Sue Young Histories

Darius Milhaud 1892 – 1974

February 10, 2009

Darius Milhaud 1892 – 1974 was a French composer and teacher.

Darius Milhaud was a keen advocate of homeopathy, having taken it for ’a number of years’, and he recommended homeopathy to his friend joseph Maurice Ravel.

Darius Milhaud was a patient of Elizabeth Wright Hubbard, Antoine Nebel, and Ragatz.

Darius Milhaud was a friend of Cyril Meir Scott.

Darius Milhaud was 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 composition under Charles Widor and harmony and counterpoint with Andre Gedalge.

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 emigrated 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.

Legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck arguably became Milhaud’s most famous student when Dave Brubeck furthered his music studies at Mills College in the late 1940s (he named his eldest son Darius).

Milhaud (like his contemporaries Paul Hindemith, Gian Francesco Malipiero, Bohuslav Martinu and Heitor Villa Lobos) was an extremely rapid creator, for whom the art of writing music seemed almost as natural as breathing.

His most popular 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, also for two pianos), and Saudades do Brasil (dance suite).

His autobiography is titled Notes Sans Musique (Notes Without Music), later revised as Ma Vie Heureuse (My Happy Life).

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, aged 81.


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