Darius Milhaud: Scaramouche

I just heard this piece performed by two teenagers on a radio program called “From The Top.”  The melody is not new to me, but I always assumed it was by Debussy’s “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” or something by Louis Gottschalk, maybe the first American in Paris.

Anyway, I was happy to hear that it was Darius Milhaud, who was one of “The Six,” that is six 20th Century composers active in Paris early last century.  They included, Georges Auric (1899–1983), Louis Durey (1888–1979), Arthur Honegger (1892–1955), Darius Milhaud (1892–1974), Francis Poulenc (1899–1963), Germaine Tailleferre (1892–1983).

This is fun, uplifting music and if you explore more of Milhaud, whom I’ve written about before, I’m sure you’ll be enchanted by him as well.

Darius Milhaud: La Creation du Monde

I wanted to write a bit more about Milhaud today, not just to describe this extraordinary piece, but also to pay homage to the music label, Nonesuch.

When I started collecting classical music, I was, after all, in my teens and from a working class family. I had odd jobs—mowing lawns, life guarding, etc.—but when I went into record stores I was astounded at how much classical disks cost—at least double the price of popular albums. My friend, Kerry Wade, had a copy of La Creation Du Monde on the budget label, Nonesuch, which—if my memory serves me correctly—were about half the price of records on the big labels.

Nonesuch was an amazing company, and they seemed to have found an interesting niche. The artists on Nonesuch recordings were rarely the big names like Heifitz, Karajan, Rubenstein, or the New York Philharmonic, all of whom were busy, in the 60s and 70s turning out the same set of standard repertoire recordings as every other violinist, pianist, or orchestra. My Nonesuch copy of La Creation Du Monde, for example, was conducted by Milhaud himself, with the Orchestra du Theatre des Champs-Elyssees, which theatre is where he premiered Le Boeuf in 1919. Nonesuch, by not courting the big names, was able to carry works of less popular composers and artists, and therefore probably did more to bring classical music to a wider audience than any other company.

There is some irony here, especially with regards to La Creation Du Monde. Milhaud was deeply influenced by Jazz, which he first heard in London in 1920. He then visited New York and was taken to a number of Jazz clubs in Harlem where the music electrified him. Supposedly he sat in the front row taking notes. When he returned to Paris he wrote La Creation Du Monde and announced that European culture was now being influenced by American culture for the first time. That was about the time that Hemingway and the “Lost Generation” flocked to Europe, which also resulted in flourishing of the arts on both sides of the Atlantic. So La Creation Du Monde is a piece of three continents—Africa, North America and Europe. Milhaud was World Music before World Music was cool.

Darius Milhaud: Le Boeuf sur le Toit

There is a Japanese proverb that goes something like: “When the student is ready, the Buddha will appear.” The origin of the word Buddha means “to wake up” and people think of the Buddha as a great teacher. And what is a great teacher but someone who wakes you up? Why this saying resonates with me is because–while reviewing all the pieces that I intend to write about–I have come to value my great luck in finding people who have either taught me about or exposed me to new pieces of music. Kerry Wade probably wouldn’t want to be called a Buddha, but he was one for me, when I was growing up in northern Indiana in the 1960s.



One day, on a visit to his house, Kerry pulled out an album and said “You have to listen to this!” It had two works on it by Darius Milhaud, Le Boeuf sur la Toit and La Creation Du Monde. Milhaud was a 20th Century French composer and a member of Les Six, a group of six avant gardecomposers who hung out together in Paris early in the century. (The other five were Durey, Honegger, Tailleferre, Auric and Poulenc.)

Kerry gave the disk a spin and the most unique music started, which instantly made me laugh. Milhaud wrote Le Boeuf after returning from Brazil in 1919 where he worked as the secretary of the ambassador from France, Paul Claudel, the writer and brother of the subject of the movie Camille Claudel. The work is based on a Brazilian dance-hall melody Milhaud heard in a Brazilian bar he used to frequent called Le Boeuf sur le Toit (trans. The Ox on the Roof). It is a raucous, discordant piece, which every time it starts to slow down, Milhaud jump starts it by repeating the melody–a galloping tune blasted out by the trumpets. He does this twelve times, on each occasion changing key.

The liner notes on my copy, directed by Milhaud himself, states that the composer received a commission to write this piece for a Charlie Chaplin silent short film, but it was never used. It does have a comic feel to it.

I sometimes wonder how this piece was received by the critics. Of course, since the debut six years earlier of Stravinski’s Rites of Spring, the public was probably ready for anything. The French surrealist poet (and writer, and painter, and film maker), Jean Cocteau, was so taken by the piece that he produced it as a ballet performed by a troop of clowns and acrobats, with the stage design having been done by the painter Raoul Dufy.

Since the advent of CDs, I don’t get a chance of listening to my old vinyl disks any more, which I’ve relegated to a shelf in my basement. A few years ago, when my daughters were in middle school (that is around my age when I first heard it), I pulled Le Boeuf to give it a spin. My daughters laughed at it and my wife asked what it was. Nice to know that it still surprises people after all these years.

Darius Milhaud: La Creation Du Monde

I wanted to write a bit more about Milhaud today, not just to describe this extraordinary piece, but also to pay homage to the music label, Nonesuch.

When I started collecting classical music, I was, after all, in my teens and from a working class family. I had odd jobs—mowing lawns, life guarding, etc.—but when I went into record stores I was astounded at how much classical disks cost—at least double the price of popular albums. My friend, Kerry Wade, had a copy of La Creation Du Monde on the budget label, Nonesuch, which—if my memory serves me correctly—were about half the price of records on the big labels.

Nonesuch was an amazing company, and they seemed to have found an interesting niche. The artists on Nonesuch recordings were rarely the big names like Heifitz, Karajan, Rubenstein, or the New York Philharmonic, all of whom were busy, in the 60s and 70s turning out the same set of standard repertoire recordings as every other violinist, pianist, or orchestra. My Nonesuch copy of La Creation Du Monde, for example, was conducted by Milhaud himself, with the Orchestra du Theatre des Champs-Elyssees, which theatre is where he premiered Le Boeuf in 1919. Nonesuch, by not courting the big names, was able to carry works of less popular composers and artists, and therefore probably did more to bring classical music to a wider audience than any other company.

There is some irony here, especially with regards to La Creation Du Monde. Milhaud was deeply influenced by Jazz, which he first heard in London in 1920. He then visited New York and was taken to a number of Jazz clubs in Harlem where the music electrified him. Supposedly he sat in the front row taking notes. When he returned to Paris he wrote La Creation Du Monde and announced that European culture was now being influenced by American culture for the first time. That was about the time that Hemingway and the “Lost Generation” flocked to Europe, which also resulted in flourishing of the arts on both sides of the Atlantic. So La Creation Du Monde is a piece of three continents—Africa, North America and Europe. Milhaud was World Music before World Music was cool.

Darius Milhaud: Le Boeuf sur le Toit

There is a Japanese proverb that goes something like: “When the student is ready, the Buddha will appear. The origin of the word Buddha means “to wake up” and people think of the Buddha as a great teacher. And what is a great teacher but someone who wakes you up? Why this saying resonates with me is because-while reviewing all the pieces that I intend to write about-I have come to value my great luck in finding people who have either taught me about or exposed me to new pieces of music. Kerry Wade probably wouldn’t want to be called a Buddha, but he was one for me.



One day, on a visit to his house, Kerry pulled out an album and said “You have to listen to this!” It had two works on it by Darius Milhaud, Le Boeuf sur la Toit and La Creation Du Monde. Milhaud was a 20th Century French composer and a member of Les Six, a group of six avant gardecomposers who hung out together in Paris early in the century. (The other five were Durey, Honegger, Tailleferre, Auric and Poulenc.)

Kerry gave the disk a spin and the most unique music started, which instantly made me laugh. Milhaud wrote Le Boeuf after returning from Brazil in 1919 where he worked as the secretary of the ambassador from France, Paul Claudel, the writer and brother of the subject of the movie Camille Claudel. The work is based on a Brazilian dance-hall melody Milhaud heard in a Brazilian bar he used to frequent called Le Boeuf sur la Toit (trans. The Ox on the Roof). It is a raucous, discordant piece, which every time it starts to slow down, Milhaud jump starts it by repeating the melody–a galloping tune blasted out by the trumpets. He does this twelve times, on each occasion changing key.

The liner notes on my copy, directed by Milhaud himself, states that the composer received a commission to write this piece for a Charlie Chaplin silent short film, but it was never used. It does have a comic feel to it.

I sometimes wonder how this piece was received by the critics. Of course, since the debut six years earlier of Stravinski’s Rites of Spring, the public was probably ready for anything. The French surrealist poet (and writer, and painter, and film maker), Jean Cocteau, was so taken by the piece that he produced it as a ballet performed by a troop of clowns and acrobats, with the stage design having been done by the painter Raoul Dufy.

Since the advent of CDs, I don’t get a chance of listening to my old vinyl disks any more, which I’ve relegated to a shelf in my basement. I pulled Le Boeuf out the other day, however, to give it a spin. My daughters laughed at it and my wife asked what it was. Nice to know that it still surprises people after all these years.

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