After taking some piano and violin lessons as a child. Milhaud entered the Paris conservatory at the age of seventeen as a violin student. During his studies he played the violin in the student orchestra and began composing in what was described as “a bold modernistic manner.” Milhaud made friends with many artists who influenced him even more than did his musical colleagues. At this time he also began traveling extensively, a habit he never gave up.
As World War I broke out, Milhaud began composing regularly. He was rejected for military service because of his poor health.
In 1916 he accompanied the then diplomat and later famous poet Paul Claudel to Brazil as his secretary, when Claudel was appointed French minister in that country. In the two years he spent in Brazil Milhaud was introduced to its native music. Eventually many of its rhythms found their way to his own compositions. From the mid-1920s Milhaud devoted himself abouve everything to composition.
Milhaud wrote over four hundred compositions which encompass almost every possible genre, from opera to chamber music, from ballet to the symphonic repertoire. Among his many innovations are what he called a miniature symphony as well as works for electronic instruments. His 1923 ballet, La Creation du monde (“The Creation ol the World"), portrays the creation myth through the eyes of Black cosmology, for which the composer used jazz and blues almost for the first time in a symphonic score.
Milhaud composed works that reflect his Jewish heritage, including part of a ballet titled Motse, and the Poèmes juifs. David, an opera in five acts was premiered in Jerusalem in 1954 as part ofa festival to honor the 3000th anniversary of King David. Milhaud himself traveled to Israel during the composition of this work in order to get the feel of the country. Other Jewish compositions include “Kaddish” for voice and organ, “Sabbath Morning Service” for baritone, chorus and organ, and Milhaud’s last work, the cantata “Ani Maamin,” which was written for the 1973 Israel Festival.
Member Academia Royale des Sciences et Lettres des Beaux Art de Belgique, Institut (Paris). Compositions include 18 string quartets, 8 sonatas, 3 symphonic suites, 12 symphonies, 6 chamber orchestra symphonies, 14 operas, 15 ballets, music for films, theaters.
Married Madeleine Milhaud, May 4, 1925.