“La Création du Monde” (1923)

Work suggested by ... Pierre Boulez
Composer ... Darius Milhaud

“The ballet La Création du Monde is an important example of a jazz-influenced work by composer Darius Milhaud. ”

Described by its composer as "a work making wholesale use of the jazz style to convey a purely classical feeling," the ballet La Création du Monde (The Creation of the World), by French composer Darius Milhaud, premiered on October 25, 1923, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, in Paris. With instrumentation inspired by Milhaud's earlier exposure to the theaters and dance halls of 1920s Harlem, La Création du Monde was first performed by the Ballet Suédois; with costumes and stage sets by cubist painter Fernand Léger; and with a story-line by Swiss poet Blaise Cendrars, richly drawing from a mythical African story of creation.

One of the most prolific and important composers of the twentieth-century, Darius Milhaud was born in Marseilles, in 1892, and later emigrated to the United States after the fall of France, in 1940. During the next thirty years, he composed and lectured throughout California, in positions with both Mills College, in Oakland, and the Music Academy of the West, in Santa Barbara, before later returning to France to assume a position as professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire. In describing his first musical experiences in 1920s Harlem, Milhaud stated "the music was absolutely different from anything I had ever heard before, and was a revelation to me. Against the beat of the drums the melodic lines crisscrossed in a breathless pattern of broken and twisted rhythms."

The introductory saxophone theme of La Création du Monde, along with that of the following section, have been described as "among the most original uses to which the Baroque form has been put; a jazz prelude and fugue, reaching a spectacularly chaotic climax," with the entire work, as a whole, making the highly effective use of percussion for which Milhaud was already widely recognized.

In his own description of the critical evolution brought about by La Création du Monde, Milhaud recalled the reviews of its first performance when stating "the critics decreed that my music was frivolous and more suitable for a restaurant or a dance hall than for the concert hall. Ten years later, those self-same critics were discussing the philosophy of jazz and learnedly demonstrated that La Création was with the best of my works."

About Darius Milhaud:

(b Marseilles, 4 Sept 1892; d Geneva, 22 June 1974). French composer. One of France's most prolific composers, Darius Milhaud's abundant musical output spans nearly every musical genre. Closely associated with the avant-garde of the 1920s, he was a pioneer in combining the use of percussion, polytonality, jazz influence, and aleatory techniques. Though his sources of inspiration were many and varied, Milhaud's work consistently maintained a unique stylistic unity.

About Pierre Boulez:

(b Montbrison, 2 March 1925). French composer and conductor. Through his continuing work as one of the most distinguished conductors and composers in the world today, as well as through his extensive activities as author and educator, Pierre Boulez has made an unparalleled contribution to the advancement of contemporary music. Widely regarded for both his force of will and clarity of vision, he has received honorary doctorates from Leeds, Cambridge, Basel, and Oxford universities; has been named Commander of the British Empire; and was awarded Knight of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Contributing writer:

Drew Massey

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Blood on the Floor
Ebony Concerto
For Suzanne
Jonny Spielt Auf
La Création du Monde
Lament for M
Piano Concerto
Porgy and Bess
Rhapsody in Blue
Sonata for Violin