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Milhaud's "Suite Frainçaise" on Composers Datebook

June 13, 2010

Today, the featured piece on Composers Datebook from American Public Media was Darius Milhaud's Suite Francaise. Although this piece does not receive the performances that it did in the mid to late twentieth century, it still remains an important part of the wind band repertoire.

 

This piece is also representative of a movement that took place in the middle part of the twentieth century. In the middle part of the century, American wind groups commissioned some of the best composers in the world to write for bands in order to add to the wind band repertoire. Some of these composers included (among others) Copland, Persichetti, Schoenberg, Gould, and Schuman. Many of these pieces were commissioned under the auspices of the American Bandmasters Association, although some were done by high school groups.

 

Below is the text from today's Composers Datebook on "Suite Francaise." You can also listen to the audio link here.

 

Milhaud's Suite Française

 

In 1944, the French composer Darius Milhaud was in California, teaching at Mills College in Oakland, California, and around that time he received a commission to write a piece suitable for school bands. With a world at war, the Jewish composer had found safe refuge in the U.S., and so eagerly accepted the commission for a number of reasons.

 

Milhaud, confined to a wheelchair for most of his adult life, sent his wife Madaleine to the College library to obtain a collection of French folk tunes. His idea was to arrange some into a suite. As the composer himself explained after his Suite Française was finished:

 

"The five parts of [my] Suite are named after French Provinces, the very ones in which the American and Allied armies fought together with the French underground of the liberation of my country: Normandy, Brittany, Ile-de-France (of which Paris is the center), Alsace-Lorraine, and Provence (my birthplace). I used some folk tunes of these Provinces, as I wanted the young American to hear the popular melodies of those parts of France where their fathers and brothers fought on behalf of the peaceful and democratic people of France."

 

Milhaud's Suite Française was premiered by the Goldman Band in New York City on today's date in 1945, and rapidly became one the best-known and most often performed of Milhaud's works and one of the established classics of the wind-band repertory.

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