In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Darius Milhaud

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Memoirs, Writings, and Interviews
  • Published Correspondence
  • Visual Media
  • Specific Works

Music Darius Milhaud
Erin K. Maher
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0205


Darius Milhaud (b. 1892–d. 1974) was a composer who traveled widely and absorbed a variety of compositional influences while remaining closely identified with his native France. Raised in Aix-en-Provence, he always affirmed the French, Jewish, and Provençal elements of his identity, describing himself in the opening sentence of his memoirs as “un Français de Provence et de religion israélite.” After studying at the Paris Conservatoire and spending two years in Brazil during World War I, Milhaud came to prominence as part of Les Six (in Musical Networks) but quickly established a reputation of his own. He promoted a polytonal musical language as a “Latin” challenge to Germanic chromaticism and atonality, and he also gained recognition for his use of Brazilian music and jazz in such works as Le bœuf sur le toit (1919) and La création du monde (1923). His early image as an ultramodernist provocateur took time to overcome, but by the end of the 1930s, he had successfully gone from enfant terrible to member of the French musical establishment; to some, he had even inherited the mantle of “France’s greatest living composer” after the death of Maurice Ravel (b. 1875–d. 1937). Compositions including Suite provençale (1936) and Scaramouche (1937) achieved popular success, and his operas Christophe Colomb (1928), Maximilien (1930), and Médée (1938) were performed both in France and elsewhere in Europe. The invasion of France in 1940 posed a serious threat to the Jewish composer—who, by this time, was also disabled and chronically ill—and he left for the United States with his wife, Madeleine (b. 1902–d. 2008), and their son, Daniel (b. 1930–d. 2014), and joined the music faculty of Mills College in Oakland, California. After World War II, when he assumed a teaching position at the Paris Conservatoire, he and his wife divided their time between Oakland and Paris until they retired to Geneva in 1971, where he died three years later. Among the works of this later period are several large-scale compositions on Jewish subjects, such as the liturgical work Service sacré (1947), the opera David (1953), and the cantata Ani maamin (1972). With a works catalog reaching op. 443, Milhaud is recognized as one of the 20th century’s most prolific composers, a distinction that has been employed both to praise and to criticize. His place in general histories of music is often limited to the period of Les Six (in Musical Networks), but scholars have explored many other aspects of his long and multifaceted career.

General Overviews

Overviews of Milhaud’s life and works tend to devote the most space to his activities during the 1920s, focusing on his association with Les Six (in Musical Networks), the milieu of interwar Paris, and the early works that established his reputation as an innovative modernist. Other recurring themes include his characteristic use of polytonality, his identity as both French and Jewish, and his prolificacy as a composer. Jeremy Drake’s Grove article, Milhaud, Darius, is a good introduction to the variety of influences and stylistic features exhibited in Milhaud’s vast compositional output; Shapiro 2011, another concise overview, places more emphasis on Milhaud’s interactions with other musicians. The earliest book-length study of Milhaud and his music, written by a close friend and advocate, is Collaer 1988 (originally published in 1947); Roy 1968 paints a similarly appreciative picture of the composer, but without Collaer’s level of detail. Chimènes and Massip 2002 provides a biographical overview, essays on several central aspects of Milhaud’s music, and a selection of his letters and other writings. Ricavy and Milhaud 2013 synthesizes the narrative and perspectives of earlier studies and of Milhaud’s autobiography (Milhaud 1995, cited under Memoirs, Writings, and Interviews).

  • Chimènes, Myriam, and Catherine Massip, eds. Portrait(s) of Darius Milhaud. Translated by Jeremy Drake. Cleveland, OH: Darius Milhaud Society, 2002.

    Collection of essays by leading scholars and previously unpublished texts by Milhaud, along with more than eighty images, many in color. Catherine Massip’s chronology of Milhaud’s life is particularly useful. First published in French in 1998 as Portrait(s) de Darius Milhaud (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France).

  • Collaer, Paul. Darius Milhaud. Translated by Jane Hohfeld Galante. San Francisco: San Francisco Press, 1988.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-10651-6

    Translation of the expanded 1982 edition (Geneva, Switzerland: Slatkine); first published in French in 1947 (Antwerp, Belgium: Nederlandsche Boekhandel). Collaer (b. 1891–d. 1989), a devoted friend and supporter of Milhaud, offers a portrait of the composer and his music, written from a knowledgeable and sympathetic perspective. Milhaud’s dramatic works receive the most attention, but his entire output is covered.

  • Milhaud, Darius. “Darius Milhaud.” In Grove Music Online.

    Drake describes Milhaud’s sources of inspiration, use of jazz, compositional innovations, polytonality and counterpoint, vocal music, and elements of his style in each decade. The biography focuses on the period before 1930, with a brief overview of later years. Includes a bibliography and works list. Available online by subscription.

  • Ricavy, Micheline, and Robert Milhaud. Darius Milhaud: Un compositeur français humaniste; Sa traversée du XXe siècle. Paris: Van de Velde, 2013.

    The first 21st-century biography of Milhaud. Generally echoes the composer’s own narratives about his life rather than introducing new information or critical interpretations, and some details are inaccurate. Brief chapters at the end consider the influences of religion, popular music, and film on Milhaud’s compositions.

  • Roy, Jean. Darius Milhaud: L’Homme et son œuvre. Paris: Editions Seghers, 1968.

    The biographical section primarily concerns Milhaud’s early life; the years after 1922 are covered only briefly. The discussion of Milhaud’s music addresses his use of polytonality and provides an overview of his compositions, organized by genre. Includes a basic works list and discography through 1968.

  • Shapiro, Robert. “Darius Milhaud.” In Les Six: The French Composers and Their Mentors Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie. Edited by Robert Shapiro, 187–213. London: Peter Owen, 2011.

    Centers on the time of Les Six (in Musical Networks), with a number of translated quotations from Parisian critics; the years after 1940 are also covered, but there is little about Milhaud’s activities during the 1930s. Also gives overviews of Milhaud’s religious music and his musical philosophy.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.