Darius Milhaud

Le carnaval d'Aix (11), fantasy for piano & orchestra, Op. 83b

    Description by Jeremy Grimshaw

    In his introduction to Darius Milhaud's autobiography A Happy Life, Christopher Palmer finds the composer's meticulously crafted yet irrepressibly sunny style deeply rooted in his native environs. Milhaud was born in southern France and, according to Palmer, "the outline of the strong, rugged Provençal hills was engraved on his subconscious...Aix, in one form or another, is rarely absent from [his] music." Carnaval d'Aix, from 1926, is one of a handful of works in which the composer makes this connection explicit. Despite the title, however, the work was inspired not only by memories of Provence, but by the composer's wanderings abroad as well. Built as a continuous string of scenes drawn from his ballet Salade from 1924, the piece imagines a group of traditional Commedia dell'Arte characters from the Italian theater. However, having previously taken in the sights and sounds of Brazil during a time of diplomatic service there, Milhaud imagines the troupe costumed as if for Carnaval, but somehow transported across the Atlantic to the composer's homeland of Aix-en-Provence. Although artfully crafted, Carnaval d'Aix is not one of Milhaud's most imposing works, even given his generally lighthearted musical disposition. During the time of its composition, Milhaud was receiving increasing attention abroad and had begun to receive offers for engagements to play his own music with various prominent orchestras (he premiered the Carnaval with the New York Philharmonic, under the baton of Willem Mengelberg). Though a competent pianist, he did not consider concert performance his forte. And while Milhaud surely exaggerated somewhat on the side of self-deprecation, he was self-conscious enough about his pianistic abilities for such concerns to have informed his Ballade for piano and orchestra, Op. 61, which he also performed during his tours abroad. Likewise, of the Carnaval d'Aix Milhaud wryly explained that "As I was no virtuoso, I had to compose for myself an easy work which would give the audience the impression that it was difficult." The hallmarks of Milhaud's style are present: the curious chromatic diversions, subtle but poignant use of dissonance within tonal contexts, polytonal complexes, and especially, vibrant rhythms inspired by jazz and South American music. Of course, Milhaud puts virtuosity to the purposes of expressive nuance rather than sheer pyrotechnics even in his most challenging works. Accordingly, what the Carnaval d'Aix lacks in technical complexity on the part of the soloist, it makes up for in energy and charm.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Le Corso
    2. Tartaglia
    3. Isabella
    4. Sombre
    5. Romantique
    6. Coviello
    7. Le Capitaine Cartuccia
    8. Polichinelle
    9. Polka
    10. Cinzio
    11. Souvenir de Rio
    12. Final

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Erato 557140
    2014 Brilliant Classics 94868
    2008 Alphée / Zebralution
    2007 CPO 777162
    2005 EMI Classics
    2004 Hyperion CDH55168
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 74740
    1999 Teldec 21347
    1994 Vox 5109
    1992 Praga 250007
    1992 Hyperion CDA66594
    Nuova Era 7130
    Arkadia 24