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Darius Milhaud: "La Crèation du Monde"

La Crèation du Monde

  1. Overture: Modéré

  2. Le chaos avant la creation

  3. La naissance de la flore et de la faune

  4. La naissance de l'homme et de la femme

  5. Le desir

  6. Le printemps ou l'apaisement

Darius Milhaud

Born: September 4, 1892, Marseille, France

Died: June 22, 1974, Geneva, Switzerland

Instrumentation: Chamber Orchestra

Duration: 16 minutes

Composed: 1923

In the early 1920s, while much of the American artistic community dismissed jazz as unworthy of being taken seriously, the European establishment began to see America as an international trendsetter in the field. Following World War I, European composers, including Paul Hindemith and Igor Stravinsky, began to incorporate jazz patterns into their new works, and jazz began to be recognized as a valid and particularly exciting new form. Among the most exciting of the composers to use the new form was the Frenchman, Darius Milhaud.

Of Milhaud’s work with jazz, Leonard Bernstein said, “Among all the experiments with jazz that Europe flirted with in this period, only The Creation of the World emerges complete, not as a flirtation but as a real love affair with jazz.” Dave Brubeck said, “Milhaud’s Création du Monde was the first and remains the best jazz piece from a classical European composer.” High praise indeed. Milhaud was among the most prolific of contemporary composers, with a catalog of more than 400 works. He loved to “fire his imagination” with the popular music of other cultures, then assimilate these “other musics” into his own works, putting his unique twist on them. He first heard real jazz in London in 1920 and then in New York in 1922. He listened to all he could, trying to absorb and analyze the sounds. He was determined to use what he had heard as a basis for his chamber music. He called it “music that was completely different, the melodic lines, set off by the percussion, overlapping contrapuntally in a throbbing mixture of broken, twisted rhythm.”

La Création du Monde is a six-part ballet. It begins with a slow overture with a steady rhythmic pulse. He uses a saxophone for the main melody line, something that would have been quite unusual in 1923. The first section, “The Chaos before Creation” is in contrast to the overture, agitated and energetic with a bright, jazz-inspired melody. The second section is “the slowly lifting darkness, the creation of trees, plants, insects, birds and beasts.” It is slower, with a blues-like melody. The third section, “Man and woman created,” is again animated and energized, and the next movement, “The desire of man and woman,” has a lively clarinet melody centering around the A-flat blues scale. The fifth tableau, “The man and woman kiss,” describes the radiant light of the newly created world. The couple is joined and the work ends. It is a masterful swapping of jazz and blues combined with traditional classical motifs, and, again quoting Bernstein, “its character and originality are such that it sounds as fresh as it did when it was written in 1923.

- Notes by Beryl McHenry

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