The Global Reception of Darius Milhaud’s Music, 1922-1933

A French composer best known for his participation in the avant-garde “Groupe des Six” in the early 1920s, Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) struggled to win critical approval in the early part of his career. His most popular pieces were those that blended French popular styles with Brazilian and African-American idioms that he encountered during travels to Brazil and the United States in the 1910s and 1920s. But he sought to draw attention to his more experimental, philosophically weighty works, especially his dramatic works. In the 1930s he finally won recognition in France for his operas, including Maximilien, which received its premiere at the Paris Opéra in 1932. How did that change in reception come about?

In his correspondence, Milhaud claimed repeatedly that he was achieving wild successes in Germany and Austria, where theaters and concert halls were competing over the privilege to perform his music. These alleged performances – including the high-profile premiere of Milhaud’s opera Christophe Colomb in Berlin in 1930 – might have changed the way the French musical establishment regarded Milhaud. We set out to corroborate this idea by documenting trends in concert programming and music criticism between 1922, when Milhaud first signed a contract with Vienna-based publisher Universal Edition, and 1933, when Milhaud’s reputation in France was firmly established. After a great deal of work, which you can learn more about by clicking the links below, we’ve shown that Milhaud accurately reported his popularity in Central Europe, adding a crucial piece to the puzzle regarding his hard won official recognition in France.