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La creation du monde

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Darius Milhaud

Darius Milhaud

This work bears the designation Opus 81a.

General Info

Year: 1923
Duration: c. 16:50
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Editions Max Eschig
Cost: Score and Parts - Unknown   |   Score Only - $34.95


1. The Chaos before Creation
2. The Birth of Plants and Animals
3. The Birth of Man and Woman
4. The Desire [of Man and Woman]
5. Spring or Healing


Full Score
Flute I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II
Horn in F
String Bass I-II
Percussion I-II-III-IV-V-VI-VII-VIII, including:

  • Bass Drum (with pedal)
  • Cymbal
  • Metal Block
  • Snare Drum
  • Tambourine
  • Tenor Drum
  • Timpani (3 and 2 small)
  • Wood Block

Violin I-II


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

In the fall of 1915, the young French composer Darius Milhaud (1892 – 1974) enlisted in the French Army Photographic Services. By December, his director had assigned him as secretary to Paul Claudel, a poet and writer who was serving as the French Ambassador to Brazil. In June of 1920, Milhaud accompanied Claudel on a visit to London. Claudel had official business in Britain, and Milhaud was conducting a two-week showing of his Le Bouef sur le toit. It was in London that Milhaud would first turn his ear to jazz. In their free evenings both he and Claudel would visit the Palais de Danse in Hammersmith, where the American jazz piano act “Billy Arnold’s American Novelty Jazz Band” was giving regular performances. Milhaud’s memoires are strikingly colorful in his description of this new musical experience.

In 1922, Robert Schmitz, a conservatoire-trained French pianist living in New York City, connected Milhaud to a series of performance engagements in the city. Amidst a whirlwind of solo performances, compositional premieres, and guest conducting throughout Philadelphia, Boston, and New York City, Milhaud repeatedly made time to hear live jazz music performances. However, it was Yvonne George, the Belgian vocalist performing on Broadway connected to Milhaud by their mutual author friend Jean Cocteau, who took Milhaud to Harlem to hear true jazz performed by black musicians. As often as he could, Milhaud went to bars, dance halls, and theaters, noting that in “some of their shows, the singers were accompanied by a flute, a clarinet, two trumpets, a trombone, a complicated percussion section played by one man, a piano, and a string quintet.” An alto saxophone replaced the viola in the string quartet, and a string bass was added. The show to which he referred was Maceo Pinkard’s musical comedy Liza, and that instrumentation would be nearly duplicated in the ensemble for La création du monde.

His experiences with authentic jazz in New York left Milhaud resolved more than ever to use jazz for a chamber-music work. Upon returning to France in April of 1923, he immediately began collaborating with the artist Fernand Léger and the author Blaise Cendrars on a new ballet that Rolf de Maré had commissioned for his Ballets Suédois. The Paris art world of the early 1920s was in the grip of Primitivism, and African art and legend provided the perfect font of exoticism from which to sip. Just one year earlier in 1921, Cendrars had published Anthologie Nègre, a collection of African myths, some regarding the creation of the world. Thus, the three artists decided to create a ballet based on these myths. The ballet would premiere at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on October 25, 1923.

La création du monde elaborates an African creation myth of the earth, its plants and animals, and the First Man and First Woman. It features a harmonic language that hybridizes Milhaud’s unique bitonal language with the mixed-mode “blue” notes of American jazz. The predominant voices are the alto saxophone, which both opens and closes the work, and the oboe, which elaborates several blues melodies as the voice of the gods creating new life on earth. The narrative takes the listener from the initial stillness of the voice and the chaos of creation, to the dance of these created beings, and through the cacophonous triumph as the First Man and Woman consummate their love. As the ballet comes to a close, the flutter of flutes and a delicate dissonance in the alto saxophone accompany the Man and Woman as they share a gentle kiss before the curtain falls.

- Program Note by Robert Ward Miller for the University of South Alabama Chamber Winds recital program, 13 February 2013

During his 1920 trip to London, Milhaud heard the Billy Arnold Jazz Band, an American touring ensemble. Two years later, he returned to New York and experienced the Harlem jazz scene: “Against the beat of the drums, the melodic lines criss-crossed in a breathless pattern of broken and twisted rhythms.” When Milhaud received a commission from the Ballets suédois, a Swedish counterpart of sorts to Diaghilev’s acclaimed Ballets Russes, he turned to jazz influences and African folk mythology and wrote La création du monde, a ballet in six continuous scenes.

The work opens with an overture in which a plaintive saxophone melody floats above planing thirds in the piano and strings. The first movement, The Chaos Before Creation, features a jazz fugue played by double bass, trombone, saxophone, and trumpet. After a brief reprise of material from the overture, The Birth of Plants and Animals introduces a blues tune played by the oboe. The third movement, The Birth of Man and Woman, is a cakewalk, with an accent on the syncopated off-beat. The fourth movement portrays The Desire [of Man and Woman] with a Latin-flavored clarinet solo and an ever-increasing groove (based on material from the jazz fugue), before a short coda (Spring or Healing) brings the work to a close.

- Program Note by Travis J Cross for the University of California, Los Angeles, Wind Ensemble concert program, 2 March 2016

Milhaud described La création du monde (The Creation of the World) as a composition “making wholesale use of the jazz style to convey a purely classical feeling.” The introductory alto saxophone theme, along with that of the following section, have been described by the critic Herbert Glass as “among the most original uses of the Baroque prelude and fugue form.” While the work now exists primarily in the concert repertoire, the music was conceived as a ballet. The first performance, on October 25, 1923, at the historic Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, was presented by the Ballet suédois with costumes and sets by cubist painter Fernand Léger and a scenario by Swiss poet Blaise Cendrars. The story’s “flowering of spring” as a source of renewal was in stark contrast to the pagan rituals of death and sacrifice in Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps, premiered a decade earlier. The contrast was intentional for a variety of artistic, political, and religious reasons.

While the plot drew richly from a mythical African story of creation, the music was inspired by the composer’s first experience in Harlem during the early 1920s. Milhaud reported that the music he heard during those visits “was absolutely different from anything I had ever heard before, and was a revelation to me. Against the beat of the drums, the melodic lines criss-crossed in a breathless patter of broken and twisted rhythms.” Milhaud also recalled the reviews of the first performance as “denouncing my music as frivolous and more suitable for a restaurant or a dance hall than for the concert hall. Ten years later, those same self-anointed critics were discussing the philosophy of jazz and learnedly declaring that La création du monde was the best of my works.”

- Program Note by Drew Massey for University of Michigan Symphony Band concert program, 28 September 2017


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Temple University (Philadelphia, Penn.) Wind Symphony (Patricia Cornett, conductor) - 15 February 2023
  • Manhattan School of Music (New York) Wind Ensemble (George Manahan, conductor) - 10 November 2022
  • Liberty University (Lynchburg, Va.) Symphony Winds (Kathryn (Voelker) Wert, conductor)- 27 April 2021
  • Oklahoma State University (Stillwater) Wind Ensemble (Joseph Missal, conductor) - 25 February 2021
  • University of Miami (Fla.) Frost Wind Ensemble (Tina DiMeglio, conductor) - 21 February 2021
  • University of Oregon (Eugene) Wind Ensemble (Dennis Llanás, conductor) – 11 March 2020
  • Shenandoah Conservatory (Winchester, Va.) Wind Ensemble (Timothy Robblee, conductor) - 29 February 2020
  • University of Maryland (College Park) Wind Symphony (H. Robert Reynolds, conductor) – 29 February 2020
  • The Ohio State University (Columbus) Wind Symphony Chamber Winds (Russell C. Mikkelson, conductor) – 14 November 2019
  • University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana Graduate Conducting Recital (Jason Gardner, conductor) – 4 November 2019
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison Wind Ensemble (Scott Teeple, conductor) – 3 November 2019
  • Indiana University (Bloomington) Wind Ensemble (Rodney Dorsey, conductor) – 5 February 2019
  • New England Conservatory (Boston, Mass.) Wind Ensemble (Charles Peltz, conductor) – 9 October 2018
  • Lynn University (Boca Raton, Fla.) Wind Ensemble (Kenneth Amis, conductor) – 12 January 2018
  • University of South Carolina (Columbia) Wind Ensemble (Tonya Mitchell, conductor) – 15 October 2017
  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) Symphony Band (Michael Haithcock, conductor) – 28 September 2017
  • University of Southern California (Los Angeles) Thornton Wind Ensemble (H. Robert Reynolds, conductor) – 31 March 2017
  • University of British Columbia (Vancouver) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Robert Taylor, conductor) – 10 February 2017
  • Eastman School of Music (Rochester, N.Y.) Wind Ensemble (Eric Laprade, conductor) – 3 February 2017
  • University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) Wind Ensemble (Jerry Luckhardt, conductor) – 5 April 2016
  • University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) Wind Ensemble (Travis J. Cross, conductor) – 2 March 2016
  • Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Tex.) Meadows Wind Ensemble (Jack Delaney, conductor) - 12 February 2015 (2015 TMEA Conference, San Antonio)

Works for Winds by This Composer