Posted by: rbbadger | September 26, 2011

Le boeuf sur le toit

Darius Milhaud was a very prominent French composer of the past century.  He was renowned as a composer and as a teacher.  Some very prominent American composers, namely Philip Glass and William Bolcolm, were students of his at one time.  The jazz musicians Dave Brubeck and Burt Bachrach were also students of his. 

He was a part of les Six, the group of French composers that had gathered around the French composer Erik Satie.  Satie was very much into dada and surrealism.  One of Milhaud’s most popular and enduring works, Le boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof) is a surrealistic ballet, which among other things features the decapitation of a police officer by a ceiling fan.  (Inexplicably, the police officer later springs to life again.)  The scenario was devised by Jean Cocteau. 

The French government has placed artists and intellectuals in its embassies before.  In the early 20th century, the ambassador to Brazil was the novelist Paul Claudel.  One of the consular attachés was the composer Darius Milhaud.  Milhaud was greatly taken with Brazil and with its music.  Some of his most popular works, namely Le boeuf sur le toit and Saudades do Brasil draw heavily on Brazilian music.  He would also be influenced by American jazz.  As a teacher, he influenced the successful attempts of his student Dave Brubeck to merge jazz with classical forms.  Brubeck would go on to name his eldest son after the French composer. 

I like this rendition of this piece, especially in comparison to Bernstein’s recording of it.  He takes the pizzicatti in about 10’20” of this rendition two slowly for my tastes.  You’ll notice the violinists strumming their instruments like guitars then.



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