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Darius Milhaud: A Guide to Resources at the Library of Congress

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) was a prolific composer, conductor, and educator. This guide connects researchers to primary and secondary sources by and about him in the Music Division's collections.


Photographer unknown. Darius Milhaud. Aix-en-Provence. 1967. Leonard Bernstein Collection. Library of Congress Music Division.

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) was one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century, a conductor, and a well-respected educator. Born into a Provençal Jewish family with time-hallowed ties to the French Provençal region, Milhaud always closely held his geographic and religious identities while still composing across many musical genres and forms, inspired by many cultures. His mother, Sophie Allatini, was a contralto and pupil of Gilbert-Louis Duprez, and his father, Gabriel Milhaud, was the collaborative pianist for the Musical Society of Aix. Gabriel encouraged this curiosity and began playing duets with Darius, who was not quite three years old. At age seven, Milhaud began taking private violin lessons with Leo Bruguier. Milhaud credits Bruguier with teaching him to be a “musician and not a virtuoso.” Bruguier’s approach to Milhaud’s already curious musical mind, to music-making – either by performing, or later in his life, composing, conducting, or teaching music -- fueled Milhaud’s desire to engage with, and in turn, create, music in a variety of musical genres. In 1909, Milhaud began his studies at the Paris Conservatory where he met fellow Les Six members Arthur Honegger and Germaine Tailleferre. Milhaud studied with Xavier Leroux who praised his yet refined, but clear musical voice. At Leroux’s urging, Milhaud began studying counterpoint with Andre Gedalge, who much like Bruguier, encouraged Milhaud to deepen his musicianship, and composition with Charles Widor. Towards the end of his studies at the Paris Conservatory, Milhaud abandoned his pursuit of becoming a professional violinist, in favor of becoming a composer.

The Music Division's holdings of Darius Milhaud date back to circa 1920. The earliest Milhaud manuscript held by the Music Division is a direct result of Milhaud's time (1917-1919) in Rio de Janeiro as a military attaché to French poet, dramatist, and diplomat, Paul Claudel. Milhaud's travels to Brazil greatly influenced his compositional aesthetic. The 1920s represented a deepening interest in polytonality, introductions to new rhythmic and melodic ideas from jazz and Brazilian music, and the beginning of Milhaud's exploration into the composition of dramatic music. Among the strengths of the Music Division's Milhaud holdings are the holograph manuscripts of his dramatic works such as Les Malheurs d’Orphee composed during this pivotal time in his career.

Milhaud's reputation reached new heights in the 1930s. Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, with whom the Milhauds had forged a close relationship, commissioned several works. Additionally, the Music Division's Milhaud holdings feature a significant amount of correspondence to and from Milhaud across several of the Division's special collections.

Milhaud relocated to the United States following the German occupation of France in 1940. In need of immediate employment upon arriving in the United States, Mrs. Coolidge arranged for him to begin a full-time teaching position at Mills College where he taught notable composers-in-training such as Dave Brubeck, Burt Bacharach, and Morton Subotnick. From 1947-1971, he alternated years between teaching appointments at Mills College and the Paris Conservatoire. He co-founded the Music Academy of the West (1947) with Otto Klemperer, Roman Totenberg, Arnold Schoenberg, and other contemporaries. Milhaud's musical networks and catalog continued to flourish as he composed, and traveled throughout the United States and abroad to guest conduct and deliver lectures for the remainder of his life. Milhaud died in Geneva, Switzerland in 1974 at the age of 81.

About the Performing Arts Reading room

The Performing Arts Reading Room is the access point for the collections in the custody of the Music Division at the Library of Congress. Numbering approximately 20.5 million items and spanning more than 1000 years of Western music history and practice, these holdings include the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and close to 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance.

Submit a question through our Ask a Librarian service, call us at (202) 707-5507, or visit us in person in Room LM 113 in the James Madison building in Washington, D.C. Please read our policies and rules for using performing arts materials before visiting in person. In addition, researchers must have a reader registration card at the time of submitting requests to access material in the reading room.