Les machines agricolesFrom top to bottom: A. Tedder (hay-spreader) B. Harrow C. Reaper D. Harvester/binder
From Larousse de XXe siècle, ed. Paul Augé, Paris: Librairie Larousse, 1928-33.
Some of Milhaud’s finest work has lapsed into undeserved obscurity. This is particularly true of Milhaud’s vast and varied opus of vocal writing. Though Milhaud produced more than 300 songs for voice and piano alone, they remain poorly represented on modern, in-print recordings, as are his numerous operas and choral works. Most of these are of high quality, and some, masterpieces. With improved remastering techniques, the reissuance of rarely heard material will delight new listeners and inspire revivals. Many of Milhaud’s finest works, though, are still unavailable in satisfactory recordings. Among the operas, the early La brebis égarée (1910-15) and the charming Jewish folk-opera Esther de Carpentras (1925) should be in the stores, but aren’t. Milhaud’s uncommonly powerful theater music written for the three Claudel works after Aeschylus cannot be heard in complete form today. (Les choëphores (1915), formerly available in a good performance led by Bernstein, is now out of print.) The many songs that place Milhaud only after Poulenc among modern “mélodie” composers, are almost unrepresented. Among them, the Machines agricoles (1919), cousins to the Catalogue de fleurs, are sorely missed. Few of the a cappella vocal works are available, and Milhaud did much excellent work in that medium. And the tender Cantate de l’enfant et de la mère (1938) — formerly available on Odyssey, with Milhaud conducting the Juilliard Quartet and Madeleine Milhaud reciting the text — still awaits rerelease.(1)
Among the ballets, in which Milhaud had such great successes, one of the greatest, Le train bleu (1924), is currently unavailable. (2) The elegant ballet Les songes can only be heard in a much-abridged historical performance. (More of the music was formerly available on a good LP conducted by Maurice Abravanel, paired with another important score, Protée. (3)) Also missing is the wonderful late work, Music for Ars Nova (1969) (partly based on chance procedures). Hopefully Milhaud’s centenary will inspire a reassessment of his too-modest reputation, and a new century’s artists will unearth the lost riches of his legacy.