French composer Darius Milhaud's Saudades do Brazil is a suite of 12 dances for piano. In English, the title roughly translates to "Fond Remembrances of Brazil"; according to Milhaud, it was "inspired by South American rhythms and not based on folk music." Many writers assert that Milhaud began this suite in 1918 while still serving in Brazil as secretary to the French Ambassador, Paul Claudel. However, Milhaud places the beginning of his work on this suite in Denmark during the summer of 1920, where he was working under Claudel in a similar capacity. Max Eschig published the Saudades in 1922 in two volumes as opus 67, with Milhaud's orchestration of same appearing as Opus 67b in 1923.
When Milhaud first arrived in the United States in 1940 he frequently performed the Saudades in personal appearances with American orchestras. This was partly due to the fact that Saudades do Brazil was one of only three orchestral scores available to Milhaud in the U.S. when he arrived. The work did enjoy some popularity mid-century, and Milhaud made a splendid recording of it with the Concert Arts Orchestra in Hollywood in 1958.
Each of the 12 Saudades averages about two minutes in length, with "Copacabana" being the longest at nearly two-and-a-half minutes and "Paineras" the shortest at just over a minute. There are basically two types of Saudades: those featuring a Brazilian dance rhythm played in the left hand against a slow, simple melody in the manner of Satie played in another key, and those which bring the rhythm to the fore, with both hands work together playing polytonal chords on the beat. "Sorocaba," "Botafago," "Leme," "Corcovado," "Paineras," and "Paysandu" belong to the first group; "Gavea," "Ipanema," "Sumare," and "Laranjeiras" the second, with "Copacabana" and "Tijuca" combining both approaches. "Copacabana" is somewhat reminiscent of Ravel, with its rapid-fire rhythms and widely spread polychords. In "Ipanema," dedicated to Artur Rubinstein, dissonant ninths fan out from cluster chords in the center of the keyboard. "Tijuca," dedicated to pianist Ricardo Viñes, seems to have found the widest acceptance among these pieces, transcribed by violinist Claude Levy in 1925 and by cellist Maurice Maréchal in 1933. It is a strange piece, darkened by clusters in a way Charles Ives would admire. In "Sumare" the right-hand melody is harmonized in open fourths, and the jazzy tincture of the "Viennese fourth" is heard several times. Overall the pieces are in ternary form; sometimes the middle section is very short, as in "Sumare." "Ipanema" is in three non-repeating sections with a coda.
Much has been made of Milhaud's extensive use of polytonality at this juncture. In Saudades do Brazil Milhaud uses polytonal combinations mostly to add harmonic color to the Brazilian rhythms he here so expertly adapts for the piano. The orchestration softens the bite of the tone clusters, at least in comparison to the piano version. Otherwise the Saudades do Brazil loses nothing of its charm or energy in the orchestral equivalent.