Darius Milhaud, 1892 – 1974

September 4, 1892: In Aix-en-Provence, France, Gabriel Milhaud, an almond importer and Sophie Allatini Milhaud gave birth to composer Darius Milhaud.  (Mitch Levin)

Milhaud was a member of Les Six—also known as The Group of Six—and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His compositions are influenced by jazz and make use of polytonality. Darius Milhaud is to be counted among the modernist composers.

Born in Marseilles to a Jewish family, Milhaud began as a violinist, later turning to composition instead. Milhaud studied in Paris at the Paris Conservatory where he met his fellow group members Arthur Honegger and George Taillefere. He studied composition under Charles Widor and harmony and counterpoint with André Gedalge. He also studied privately with Vincent d’Indy. From 1917 to 1919, he served as secretary to Paul Claudel, the eminent poet and dramatist who was then the French ambassador to Brazil, and with whom Milhaud collaborated for many years, setting music for many of Claudel’s poems and plays.

The jazz pianist Dave Brubeck became one of Milhaud’s most famous students when Brubeck furthered his music studies at Mills College in the late 1940s. In a February 2010 interview with JazzWax, Brubeck said he attended Mills, a women’s college (men were allowed in graduate programs), specifically to study with Milhaud, saying, “Milhaud was an enormously gifted classical composer and teacher who loved jazz and incorporated it into his work. My older brother Howard was his assistant and had taken all of his classes.”  Brubeck named his first son Darius.

Milhaud’s former students also include popular songwriter Burt Bacharach.  Milhaud told Bacharach, “Don’t be afraid of writing something people can remember and whistle. Don’t ever feel discomfited by a melody.” (Wikipedia)

Pictured here are two stamps honoring Milhaud:  the first by France, issued as part of the Europa series in 1985 and the second by Israel in 1994 in a set featuring Jewish composers:

 

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