Darius Milhaud: "Suite Française"
Ile de France
Born September 4, 1892, in Marseille, France
Died June 22, 1974, in Geneva, Switzerland
Instrumentation: Concert Band
Duration: 15 minutes
Darius Milhaud, Suite Française
Eastman Wind Ensemble, Frederick Fennell, conductor
Darius Milhaud's Suite Française was composed in 1944, on commission from the publisher, Leeds Music Corporation, as part of a contemplated series of original works for band by outstanding contemporary composers. Milhaud’s first extended work for winds, Suite Française was premiered by the Goldman Band in 1945. The composer provided the following notes in the score:
The five parts of this suite are named after French provinces, the very ones in which the American and Allied armies fought together with the French underground for the liberation of my country – Normandy, Brittany, Ile-de-France (of which Paris is the center), Alsace-Lorraine, and Provence. I used some folk tunes of the provinces. I wanted the young Americans to hear the popular melodies of those parts of France where their fathers and brothers fought to defeat the German invaders who in less than seventy years have brought war, destruction, cruelty, torture, and murder, three times, to the peaceful and democratic people of France.
The first movement, Normandie, features two lively Norman folk songs: Germaine, the tale of a warrior returning home, seen through the eyes of a young woman, and La bergere de France et le Roi d'Angleterre (The French Shepherdess and the King of England), which in its original form depicts a comic meeting between the two title characters. Following Normandie, Bretagne begins with the invocation of a fog-horn, and quickly dives into the sea shanties La Paimpolaise (The People of Paimpol) and Les marins de Groix (The Sailors from Groix). A third Breton folk song, La chanson des metamorphoses, invokes the transformation of the singer’s lover. The third movement, Ile-de-France depicts the bustle of Paris with lively traditional material. It begins with A ma main droite j’ai un rosier (I tend a rosebush with my right hand), a children’s round that alternates bars of 3 and 2, which Milhaud sets in 4 while still retaining the accents of the original. This is soon joined by Voici la Saint-Jean (Here is Saint John), a summer festival song, and La belle au rosier blanc (The Fair Maid of the White-Rose Tree). Alsace-Lorraine takes a decidedly more melancholy turn, suggesting distant artillery fire around a solemn funeral procession, fitting for a region that has been fought over by France and Germany for generations. The main melody is original to Milhaud, but the main countermelody is a jollier Voici le moi de Mai (Here is the month of May). Provence, which depicts Milhaud’s childhood home, is joyous and innocent, featuring the most original material of any movement, along with the folk song Magali, another story of a lover transformed.