Darius Milhaud Composer
Scaramouche: Suite for 2 Pianos, Op.165bPerformances: 30
Musicology:Milhaud's Scaramouche, Op. 165b, takes its name not from the fictional character created by Rafael Sabatini, but from the Théâtre Scaramouche, headed by Henri Pascar. The Théâtre Scaramouche specialized in productions aimed at children; in May 1937 Milhaud contributed some music to Charles Vildrac's adaptation of Moliérè's Le medécin volant (The Flying Doctor). That same summer Milhaud was under pressure to produce a number of works for the Paris International Exposition; among them was a request for a piano duo for Marguerite Long and Milhaud's old friend Marcelle Meyer. Milhaud recycled two of the cues from Le medécin volant to form the outer movements of the suite, and for the slower middle movement extracted a piece written for Jules Superville's 1936 play Bolivar. The finished structure is as follows: 1. "Vif," 2. "Modéré," 3. "Brazileira" (Mouvement de Samba). Milhaud was quite facile at assembling pieces in this way, and was unnerved to note that the suite wasn't falling into place as easily as he'd hoped; Milhaud later remarked "it gave me enormous trouble."
Scaramouche: Suite for 2 Pianos, Op.165bYear: 1937
Genre: Suite / Partita
Pr. Instrument: Piano Duo
Scaramouche: Suite for 2 Pianos, Op.165 (arr. saxophone and orchestra)(Arrangement)
Nonetheless, Scaramouche was ready in time for Marcelle Meyer and Marguerite Long to play it at the Paris Exposition. To Milhaud's dismay, it attracted immediate attention, and the publisher Deiss approached Milhaud with hopes of securing the rights. Milhaud at first resisted, thinking it too slight to merit publication, but Deiss persisted, and Milhaud finally caved in. A 78 rpm record of Meyer and Long playing Scaramouche was made and helped spread the word, and Meyer programmed the work at concerts given in Paris in 1943 during the German occupation.
As time went on, Scaramouche became something of a bête noire for Milhaud; it proved so popular over time that he found himself returning to it repeatedly in order to create new arrangements for publishers. The versions for clarinet and saxophone are best known apart from the original, but Scaramouche also exists in arrangements—not all by Milhaud—for concert band, wind sextet, chamber trio, three guitars, and even 16 saxophones. Jascha Heifetz transcribed "Modéré" and "Brazileira" for the violin; most unusually, the "Brazileira" was converted into a pop song, complete with added lyrics.
The bright, tumbling opening to "Vif"—sometimes bitter with bi-tonal effects, yet strongly diatonic—pricks up the ears right from the start; it resembles an out-of-tune Parisian street piano. The "Modéré" is graceful and understated, with a gentle, falling motion reminiscent of much popular music. The "Brazileira" is like an outtake from Milhaud's Saudades do Brasil of 1921, and is so close to that folk idiom that it could easily be mistaken for the "real" thing. Programmers of classical radio programs resort to the charms of the Scaramouche often; it grabs your attention, delivers the goods, and gets out the door—all in just eight minutes.
© Uncle Dave Lewis , All Music Guide