On this day in classical music: Darius Milhaud, known as the most prolific member of “Les Six,” a group of French composers active during the early 20th century, died at age 81 in 1974. Born in Aix-en-Provence not far from the French Riviera, Milhaud studied at the Paris Conservatory. Although Milhaud is chiefly remembered today for his ballets “Le Boeuf sur le Toit” (1919) and “La Creation du Monde” (1923), he wrote in nearly every musical form, including works for orchestra, chamber music, piano, opera and concerti. With the rise of the Nazis, Milhaud left France in 1939 and came to the United States in 1940. He taught for many years at Mills College in Oakland, California. Among his students were Burt Bacharach, William Bolcom, Dave Brubeck and Philip Glass. Listen to Martha Argerich and Nelson Friere play “Brasileira” from “Scaramouche.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFdwvamsh50
On this day in the musical theatre: A Lincoln Center revival of “Kismet” closed in 1965. Alfred Drake reprised his role as Hajj, the poet who manages to talk his way repeatedly out of trouble. Robert Wright and George Forrest penned the lyrics for a production that used existing music by Russian composer Alexander Borodin. The songwriting duo followed a similar formula with “Song of Norway” (featuring music by Edvard Grieg), “Gypsy Lady” (Victor Herbert), “Magdalena” (Heitor Villa-Lobos) and “Anya” (Sergei Rachmaninoff). “Kismet” made hits of “Stranger in Paradise,” “And This Is My Beloved” and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads.” Listen to Adele Leigh, Kenneth McKellar, Robert Merrill and Ian Wallace sing ”And This Is My Beloved.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVMHuVNpLoY
Musical musings: Milhaud attracted a great deal of attention in the early 1920s, especially for his polytonal experiments. Stravinsky had started things off with the famous F-Sharp Major against C Major episode in Petrouchka. Milhaud took it from there, developing the concept. “I set to work to examine every possible combination of two keys superimposed and to study the chords thus produced,” Milhaud once remarked. “Then I did the same thing in three keys. What I could not understand was why, though the harmony books dealt with chords and their inversions and the laws governing their sequence, the same thing could not be done for polytonality. I grew familiar with some of these chords. They satisfied my ear more than the normal ones, for a polytonal chord is more subtly sweet and more violently potent.” – From The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg.