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Unexpected pleasures: Darius Milhaud's Saudades do Brasil for solo piano

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Darius Milhaud in the 1920s

Hot on the heels of reviewing Nelson Freire’s latest album, Brasileiro, I was rummaging through the discount piano music bin at Remenyi’s this morning and found Volume 2 of the collected piano works of Darius Milhaud at 30 per cent off (the Durand edition of 2009).

It contains a gorgeous suite of 10 Brazilian dances that seduced me as I sight-read my way through this afternoon. This is fluff, but really well-written fluff. Milhaud was a pianist, so everything falls easily to hand. And, because this is Milhaud, the music is tonally as slippery and in-your-face as a marble floor after a wine spill.

Milhaud (1892-1974) couldn’t serve in World War I because of a medical exemption. Instead, he found work as a propaganda attaché for the French ministry of foreign affairs and ended up in Rio de Janeiro in February, 1917. By the time he returned home to Paris exactly two years later, he had many new loves, including the rhythms of Brazil.

The set of 10 pieces is one of the offspring of this love affair.  The suite is called Saudades do Brasil, published as Op. 67. According to the foreword in the book, the pieces were premiered by Nininha Velloso Guerra at a Groupe des six concert in Paris, in November of 1920.

Here are 1. Soroabe, 3. Leme, 9. Sumaré and 6. Gávea recorded by Eva Ander in 1979:

And here is Milhaud himself at the piano in 1930 with Sumaré:

John Terauds

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