Symphonic Suite No.2

Darius Milhaud

Symphonic Suite No.2

Op. 57 • “Protée”

About this work

This music has all the originality one associates with the early works of Darius Milhaud -- bright colors, inventive use of a modal polytonality, Brazilian rhythms, and often-strange orchestration. The first version appeared in 1913 as Op. 17, a set of incidental music for chorus and orchestra for the satiric drama Protée (Proteus) by Milhaud's poet friend Paul Claudel. In 1916, he rescored the music for small orchestra. When Claudel became the French Ambassador to Rio de Janeiro, Claudel took Milhaud along as his secretary. There, Milhaud made the exciting discovery of Latin-American rhythms, especially Brazil's sambas. After their return to Paris, the Théâtre au Vaudeville proposed producing Claudel's play. Milhaud accepted a request to expand the orchestration and add new music, but the show did not make it into rehearsals. Milhaud recycled his music, especially the new bits, under the title Suite Symphonique No. 2, Op. 57. (Suite Symphonique No. 1, Op. 12, is from a failed early opera.) The new orchestral version received its first performance under the baton of Gabriel Pierné in Paris in 1920. Later, Claudel made a second version of his play and in 1955, Milhaud provided it with an incidental music score based on the original one and on the suite. Claudel's play is in the tradition of Offenbach's La Belle Hélène and Orphée aux enfers -- a satire on modern circumstances using ancient Greek mythic figures. Proteus, a sea god, is an old man with the gifts of prophecy and shape-shifting. He is a more benign prophet than the famous oracles and always tells the truth. Because of this, he is constantly pestered by people wanting to know the future and used his powers as a shape-shifter to get away from them. Only someone clever and strong enough to catch him can win his respect and get a reading. In Claudel's play Proteus, in his natural form as an old man, he falls in futile love with a young woman. Milhaud's suite begins with an Ouverture. This is pretty, warmly scored music that seems to depict the sunny island of Pharos, the home of Proteus. Restless figurations suggest the sea and the pulse of a Brazilian beat somehow conveys the beauty of the Aegean. The second movement, Prelude & Fugue, is built on a chattering subject representing the playful Tritons, the leaping heralds of Poseidon, the chief sea god. This toccata-like music constitutes the prelude. A satiric dinner for a bunch of seals is depicted by a nine-part fugue, beginning on barking bassoons. Pastorale is a lighthearted piping dance in irregular 8/8 (3+3+2/8) time, another reflection of Afro-Brazilian music. It is an adaptation of a song said to be well-known in Provençe. Nocturne, in 5/8, is a quiet tune for oboe, with wave-like figures in clarinet and violins. The Finale is bright, cheerful, and a little clumsy as it depicts a goofy, not entirely sober dance with Proteus and Poseidon.