Happy birthday Darius Mihaud!

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Darius Milhaud (September 4, 1892—June 22, 1974) was a French composer and teacher. He is considered a modernist, and his work incorporates influences from American jazz and Brazilian popular music.

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Milhaud was born in Marseilles, France into a Jewish family from Aix-en-Provence. He got his start in music playing the violin, but eventually began composing music. He studied composition at the Paris Conservatory under Charles Widor. While he was in Paris, he became interested in the avant-garde. He was particularly affected by the works of Gabriel Fauré, Ravel, Erik Satie, Ernest Bloch, Albéric Magnard, Albert Roussel, Igor Stravinsky, and Arnold Schoenberg.

In 1912, after being rejected from the military for medical reasons, Milhaud went to work in propaganda for the foreign ministry. He ended up traveling to Brazil alongside French Catholic poet Paul Claudel, who would ultimately have a major effect on his style.

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Eventually, he returned to Paris and and became part of a tight group later called "Les Six," including Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Germaine Tailleferre, and Louis Durey.

Milhaud toured Europe, but by the 1940s, the rise of Nazism forced him and his family to leave Europe. They emigrated to the United States and Milhaud got work teaching at Mills College in Oakland, California. He went on to teach there for over thirty years.

By this point, Milhaud had also come under the influence of Harlem jazz, but his identification as a French jew was ever present. This can be heard in Suite française (1944), Cantate de la guerre (1940), Borechou shema Israël (1944), Service sacré (1947), and Kaddisch (1945).

 

Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck became one of Milhaud's students in the late forties. Milhaud also taught popular songwriter Burt Bacharach.

He began to experiment more as time went on. Some of his work from this period includes Le château de feu (1954) and Pacem in terris (1963). Milhaud was extremely prolific and efficient, creating at least 440 opus numbers. He was also extremely versatile in his writing—some works were simple and others were complex. His 14th and 15th String Quartets were among some of his most virtuosic. He even composed for stage, including the ballets Le bœuf sur le toit (1920) and La création du monde (1922).

 

His work was notably concise, with most pieces never lasting longer seven minutes.

Milhaud had rheumatoid arthritis, eventually causing him to have to use a wheelchair. Later in his life, he alternated teaching at Mills College and the Paris Conservatory.

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Thursday, 04 September 2014
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