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Milhaud, Darius


Composer. Nationality: French. Born: Aix-en-Provence, 1892; moved to the United States in 1940. Family: Married his cousin, Madeleine Milhaud, who wrote the libretti for many of his operas. Education: Attended Lycée Mignet, 1902–09, Conservatoire Nationale de Musique, Paris, 1909–14. Career: 1909–14—played violin in student orchestra under the direction of Paul Dukas; 1920s-1930s—toured as composer until stricken by arthritis; 1947—Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire in Paris, also taught at Mills College, California, and the Music School of Aspen, Colorado; 1971—retired and moved to Geneva. Died: In 1974.

Films as Composer:


L'Inhumaine (L'Herbier)


La Petite Lilie (Cavalcanti)


Hallo Everybody (Richter)


Madame Bovary (Renoir); L'Hippocampe (Painlevé); Tartarin de Tarascon (Bernard)


Voix d'enfants (Reynaud)


The Beloved Vagabond (Bernhardt)


Vom Blitz zum Fernsehbild (La Conquête du ciel) (Richter); La Citadelle du silence (L'Herbier); Mollenard (Capitaine Corsaire) (Siodmak)


La Tragédie impériale (L'Herbier)


Les Otages (Bernard); The Islanders (Harvey); L'Espoir (Sierra de Teruel) (Malraux); Cavalcade d'amour (Bernard) (co); Gulf Stream (Alexeleff)


The Private Affairs of Bel-Ami (Lewin); "Ruth, Roses and Revolver" ep. of Dreams That Money Can Buy (Richter)


Paul Gauguin (Resnais)


La Vie commence demain (Védrès)


Ils étaient tous des volontaires (Villiers); Un Monde perdu (Lorenzi—for TV) (co)


Rentrée des classes (Rozier)


Peintres françaises d'aujourd'hui—Edouard Pignon (Bourniquel and Suzuki)


Vézélay (Vitaly); Dieu a choisi Paris (Prouteau and Arthuys)


Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel (Averty—for TV)


By MILHAUD: books—

Études, Paris, 1927.

Notes sans musique (autobiography), Paris, 1949.

Ma vie heureuse (autobiography), Paris, 1974; as My Happy Life, translated by Donald Evans and Christopher Palmer, London, M. Boyars, 1994.

On MILHAUD: book—

Callaer, Paul, and Jane Hahfield, Darius Milhaud, London, 1988.

Mawer, Deborah, Darius Milhaud: Modality & Structure in Music of the 1920s, Brookfeild, 1997.

On MILHAUD: articles—

Theatre Arts, vol. 31, no. 9, September 1947.

Film Dope (London), no. 43, January 1990.

Smith, Richard Langham, "Darius Milhaud," in Music & Letter, February 1990.

Wentzel, Wayne C., in Notes, March 1992.

Thiel, Wolfgang, in Film-Dienst (Cologne), 18 August 1992.

Monaghan, Peter, "An Idiosyncratic Composer Explores the Sonic Mystery of the World," in Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 April 1996.

Teachout, Terry, "Modernism with a Smile: Composers Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc," in Commentary, April 1998.

On MILHAUD: film—

A Visit with Darius Milhaud, 1955.

* * *

Darius Milhaud was one of the most prolific composers of the century, with a final tally of well over 400 opus numbers taking in every major musical form. It is not surprising that, along with everything else, he composed a good deal of film music. Indeed it would have been more surprising if he had not, given his lifelong love of the cinema. His first major success, the 1919 Surrealist ballet Le Boeuf sur le toit, was originally subtitled a Cinéma-symphonie, "suitable for an accompaniment to one of Charlie Chaplin's films."

Milhaud supplied music for some 25 films, starting out in the silent era with a score to accompany Marcel L'Herbier's avant-garde melodrama L'Inhumaine. The music is lost, but it is reputed to have matched the film's abrupt, expressionist rhythm, climaxing—for a scene where the hero resurrects his dead love in a futuristic laboratory—in a bravura cadenza scored solely for percussion instruments.

Audacious and (at least in his younger years) impudently iconoclastic, Milhaud relished experimentation for its own sake. He was one of the first to co-opt cinema into opera; his Christophe Colombe uses a backdrop movie screen to convey the thoughts of his characters, or to extend the action "into an inner universe opening out from our own." Even when his stance had become less outrageous, he retained a penchant for the avant-garde, and provided some suitably spiky music for the Man Ray section of Hans Richter's self-consciously Surrealist Dreams That Money Can Buy.

Milhaud's own musical idiom was nothing if not eclectic. He admired Debussy and Mussorgsky (and detested Wagner), but happily threw in elements of whatever took his fancy—jazz, Brazilian dance rhythms, the medieval troubadour songs of his native Provence. Rather than cast his music in a predetermined style, he preferred to adopt whatever forms and materials seemed appropriate to the given task. This adaptability, together with his fluency (he once defined inspiration as "the amount of ink in my pen"), should have made him an ideal film composer. But his relationship with the movie industry remained oddly uneasy. He believed that his "symphonic" style aroused mistrust among filmmakers, recalling in his memoirs a "rather inquisitorial visit" from Renoir while he was composing the score for Madame Bovary.

This, coupled with a perhaps inadvertent tendency to write down to movie audiences—he felt that film music must "remain modest . . . be extremely simple"—may explain why Milhaud's film scores are mostly less distinguished than might be expected from a composer of his stature. He was at his best with straightforward, light-hearted subjects such as Raymond Bernard's Cavalcade d'amour, a look at love during three periods of history. Each section of the film used a different composer: Milhaud chose the Middle Ages, and produced a fresh, transparent score, whose chamber-music textures breathed Mediterranean sunshine. He later adapted it into a suite for wind quintet, entitled La Cheminée du Roi René.

If offered a subject which genuinely engaged his emotions, Milhaud could still come up with film music that belied his reputation for elegant frivolity. André Malraux's only film, the stark Spanish Civil War drama L'Espoir, has no music until the final reel, when a long procession of villagers winds down a mountainside carrying the bodies of dead Republican airmen. For this wordless sequence, Milhaud supplied an 11-minute passage of sustained and sombre nobility. This too was adapted for concert use, as the Cortège funèbre.

Although Milhaud spent much of his later life in America, he was loath to work in Hollywood, disliking the system of handing over the composer's short score to professional orchestrators "who churn out on a commercial scale musical pathos à la Wagner or Tchaikovsky." The one Hollywood assignment he did accept was The Private Affairs of Bel-Ami, scripted (after Maupassant) and directed by Albert Lewin—"a highly cultured man," Milhaud noted, "and what is even rarer in those circles, genuinely modest." Lewin allowed Milhaud not only to orchestrate his own music, but to conduct it and sit in on the mixing sessions. The result was a score that vividly evoked the Paris of the Belle Epoque, but without the usual wash of romantic nostalgia. This, Milhaud's strutting themes and jaunty brass writing suggested, was a society whose glittering facade concealed callousness and rampant ambition—a vision entirely in keeping with Maupassant's cynical tale of a cad on the make.

—Philip Kemp

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Milhaud, Darius

Milhaud, Darius (b Aix-en-Provence, 1892; d Geneva, 1974). Fr. composer and pianist. Entered Paris Cons. 1909, studying with Gédalge, Widor, and d'Indy. Attaché at Fr. legation, Rio de Janeiro, 1917–19, meeting Claudel, poet-diplomat, who was to write libs. for several of his works. Returned Paris 1919, becoming known as one of Les Six who owed allegiance to Satie and Cocteau. Visited USA 1922 as pianist in his own works. Left Fr. 1940, settling in USA, teaching at Mills Coll., Oakland, Calif., 1940–71 and in summers at Aspen, Colorado. Also taught at Paris Cons. 1947–71. Extremely prolific composer, despite handicap of precarious health from late 1920s when rheumatic condition necessitated use of wheelchair. Dominating feature of his mus. is use of polytonality. Experimented with many instr. combinations and also with tape. Prin. works:OPERAS: Esther de Carpentras (1910–14); La brebis égarée (1910–15); Les Malheurs d'Orphée (1925); Le Pauvre Matelot (1926); trilogy: L'enlèvement d'Europe (1927), L'abandon d'Ariane (1928), La déliverance de Thésée (1928); Christophe Colomb (1928); Maximilien (1930); Médée (1938); Bolivár (1943); David (1952); Fiesta (1958); La Mère Coupable (based on 3rd play of Beaumarchais's Figaro trilogy) (1964–5); St Louis (1970).BALLETS: L'Homme et son désir (1918); Le Bœuf sur le toit (1919); Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel (1921); La Création du monde (1923); Le Train bleu (1924); La Bien-Aimée (after Schubert and Liszt) (1928); La Mort d'un tyran (1933); Mme Miroir (1948); Jeux de printemps (Imagined Wing) (1944); The Bells (1946); Les Rêves de Jacob (1949); Vendange (1952); Le rose des vents (1958); La branche des oiseaux (1965).THEATRE: Agamemnon, incidental mus. to Claudel adaptation of Aeschylus (1913–14); Protée, incidental mus. to drama by Claudel (1913–19); Les Choëphores, Claudel, after Aeschylus (1915); Les Euménides, Claudel, after Aeschylus (1917–22); L'Annonce faite à Marie, incidental mus. to Claudel drama (1932); Le Jeu de Robin et Marion, mystery play after Adam de la Halle (1951); L'Opéra des gueux, arr. of The Beggar's Opera (1937).ORCH.: Syms. Nos. 1–12 (1940–62, No.3 Hymnus ambrosianus with ch.); 3 syms. for small orch. (Le Printemps (1917), Pastorale (1918), Sérénade (1921)); Dixtur à cordes (1921); Dixtur d'instruments à vents (1922), 10 str. instr., 10 wind instr., 4 vv., ob., vc.) (1917–22); Saudades do Brazil (1920–1, orig. for pf.); Suite provençale (1937); Suite française (1945); va. conc. (1927); 2 vc. concs. (1935, 1946); cl. conc. (1941); hp. conc. (1954).PIANO & ORCH.: 5 concs.; 5 Études (1920); Le Carnaval d'Aix (1926); Conc. for 2 pf. (1942).VIOLIN & ORCH.: Concertino de printemps (1934); 3 concs. (1927–58) (No.3 Concerto Royal).MISC.: Conc., perc., small orch. (1930); Suite for harmonica (or vn.), orch. (1942); L'Apothéose de Molière, hpd., str. (1948); conc. for marimba, vib., orch. (1947); Concertino d'hiver, tb., str. (1953).CHAMBER MUSIC: 18 str. qts. (1912–51; Nos. 14 and 15 can be played separately or together as an octet, 1949); 2 vn. sonatas (1911, 1917); La Cheminée du roi René, suite (1939); str. trio (1947); str. septet (1964); sonatinas for vn. and va., fl. and pf., cl. and pf.; sonatas for va., and for vn. and hpd.; Élégie for vc. and pf. (1945).PIANO: Sonata No.1 (1916), No.2 (1949); Saudades do Brazil (1920–1, also orch.); L'Album de Madame Bovary (1934); Le Candélabre à sept branches (1951); Scaramouche for 2 pf. (1939); Paris, suite of 6 pieces for 4 pf. (1948); 6 Danses en 3 mouvements, 2 pf. (1970).VOCAL & CHORAL: Machines agricoles, v., 7 instr. (1919); Catalogue des fleurs, v., chamber orch. (1920); Sym. for vocal qt., ob., vc. (1923); Cantate de la paix (1937); Les quatre éléments, sop., ten., orch. (1938); Cantate de la guerre, unacc. ch. (1940); Kaddisch, v., ch., org. (1945); Sabbath Morning Service, bar., ch., org. (1947); Cantate de l'initiation, ch., orch. (1960); Pacem in terris, ch., orch. (1963).

Also many songs and music for about 30 films, 1929–59, incl. Madame Bovary (dir. J. Renoir, 1933) and Péron et Evita (1958).

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Darius Milhaud

Darius Milhaud

The French composer and teacher Darius Milhaud (born 1892) was the main champion of polytonality in the 20th century.

Darius Milhaud was born on Sept. 4, 1892, in Aixen-Provence. His family, descended from a line of Jews established in the region for generations, had the time and means to encourage their son's musical interests: violin lessons at age 7, participation in the quartet organized by his violin teacher at age 13, and studies at the Paris Conservatory (1909-1912) mark the well-planned stages of his student career. Typical of his generation, he voiced a strong distaste for the music of Richard Wagner and an equally strong admiration for Modest Mussorgsky and Claude Debussy. Sensing, nevertheless, the dangers of impressionism for his own development—"too much fog," "too many perfumed breezes"—Milhaud resolved to "break the spell" of Debussy, although "my heart always remained faithful."

Anti-impressionism was undoubtedly one of the two major factors uniting, just after World War I, the group of composers known as Les Six; the author Jean Cocteau was the other. Not a musician and therefore, by his own designation, not eligible for "membership" in the group, Cocteau was nevertheless its guiding spirit. His collaboration with Milhaud resulted in Le Boeuf sur le toit (1919), Le Train bleu (1924), and Le Pauvre matelot (1926). Cocteau also seems to have been responsible for stimulating Milhaud's interest in jazz, which resulted in one of his most enduring works, La Création du monde (1923).

Yet, for all their success, the Cocteau works do not reveal the essential Milhaud. Before Cocteau there had been the experience of yet deeper formative influence: that of the writer Paul Claudel. On first reading Claudel, in 1911, Milhaud was struck by a "force which shakes the human heart… like an element of nature." The two artists began a long collaboration, which Milhaud said was "the best thing of my life as a musician." They collaborated on Agamemnon (1913), Les Choéphores (1915), LesEuménides (1917-1922), Christophe Colomb (1928), Maximilien (1932), Bolívar (1952-1953), and David (1954).

Claudel was minister of France to Brazil (1917-1919) and took Milhaud along as his secretary. In Rio de Janeiro, Milhaud worked out the details of the technique which, rightly or wrongly, came to be particularly identified with his style: polytonality. What had been a "superimposition of chords proceeding by masses" in Les Choéphores was to become in L'Enfant prodigue (1918) a polytonality residing "no longer in chords but in the meetings of lines."

If polytonality was a unifying factor for Milhaud's style, his origins served to define his esthetic: "Latinity, Mediterranean are words which have a deep resonance in me." The locales of his stage works—Greece, Palestine, Mexico, and Brazil—are significant for their strong affinities with his native Provence, and the music of these places furnished him with many melodic and rhythmic ideas. The themes of southern landscape and popular life are so omnipresent in his vocal works that they have tended to obscure his image as a composer of absolute music, that is, music free from extramusical implications.

The number of symphonies (16), concertos (31), and chamber works (about 60) that Milhaud composed is considerable; indeed, in 20th-century terms his production of over 400 works is enormous, a fact which engendered some negative criticism about his work, such as unevenness in quality, inattention to detail, and signs of haste. Such accusations ignore Milhaud's basic motivation as a composer, namely, that the act of creation is more important than the thing created. His production was all the more remarkable in view of his teaching schedule. From 1948 on he spent alternate years in Paris and at Mills College, Calif.

Further Reading

Milhaud's own account is Notes without Music: An Autobiography (1949; trans. 1953). Biographical information on Milhaud is also in Edward Burlingame Hill, Modern French Music (1924; rev. ed. 1970), and David Ewen, The World of Twentieth Century Music (1968). □

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Milhaud, Darius

Darius Milhaud (däryüs´ mēyō´), 1892–1974, French composer. Milhaud studied at the Paris Conservatory. In Brazil (1917–19) as an aide to Paul Claudel, poet and French minister to Brazil, he became acquainted with Brazilian folk music. Upon his return to France, he became one of the group known as Les Six. Milhaud became professor of composition at Mills College, Oakland, Calif., in 1940. He is especially celebrated as a composer for the stage; his operas include Le Pauvre Matelot (1927; libretto by Jean Cocteau) and Christophe Colombe (1930; libretto by Claudel). Milhaud's outstanding ballets are La Création du Monde (1923) and Le Boeuf sur le toit; or, The Nothing Doing Bar (1920). A prolific composer, Milhaud also wrote symphonies, concertos, orchestral music, chamber music, and songs. He was among the first to exploit polytonality and developed new rhythmic structures influenced by Brazilian and jazz elements.

See his autobiography, Notes without Music (tr. 1953, repr. 1970).

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Milhaud, Darius

Milhaud, Darius (1892–1974) French composer. In the incidental music to Claudel's translation of Aeschylus' Orestes, (1913–22), Milhaud experimented with polytonality. He also included jazz elements in his compositions, notably La Création du Monde (1923). His most ambitious work was the opera Christophe Colombe (1930).

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