Darius Milhaud

French composer (1892, Aix-en-Provence – 1974, Geneva)

The works by Darius Milhaud, unusually dense for the 20th century, made their author one of the most prolific composers of all time.

Darius Milhaud grew up in a Jewish family from Aix-en-Provence. His father, a trader and amateur musician, shaped his appreciation of music from a very early age. Yet, he enrolled at the Paris Conservatory quite late, at the age of 17, where he met his friend Arthur Honegger. There, he studied violin, harmony, counterpoint, composition under Charles Widor, conducting with d’Indy and orchestration with Dukas. His first compositions were already audaciously avant-garde, and they made extensive use of polytonality from 1915 onwards. He met Erik Satie, Jean Cocteau, then Paul Claudel for whom he served as secretary at the French Embassy in Brazil. Once back in France after a trip to New York, he became a member of the Group of Six ("Les Six"). He returned to the United States once again in 1922, playing piano compositions and lecturing in major universities. Milhaud was a great traveller. He travelled throughout Europe and later decided to focus on composing and teaching. World War II forced him out of France and he therefore started teaching in California where he would stay for many years. From 1947 onwards, he divided his time between his teaching job at the Paris Conservatory and the United States.

With more than 443 compositions, Darius Milhaud’s works are characterised by polytonality, polyrhythms, melody inventiveness, the influence of Brazilian music and jazz as well as formal research.

Six landmark dates in the life of Darius Milhaud

1909: Enrolled at the Paris Conservatory

1917: Arrived in Rio de Janeiro

1920: Joined the Group of Six

1922: Worked in the United States

1947: Started teaching at the Paris Conservatory

1971: Awarded the Grand Prix – International Music Competition and elected at the Academy of Fine Arts

Six key works by Darius Milhaud

1919: The Ox on the Roof (ballet)

1920-1921: Saudades do Brasil (suite for piano)

1921: The Wedding Party on the Eiffel Tower (collective ballet)

1923: The Creation of the World (ballet)

1927: L’Abandon d’Ariane (opera)

1938: Suite provençale (for 2 pianos)

Biography from Radio France’s document database, January 2014