Madeleine Milhaud

Portrait of an intellectual woman of the 20th century

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Madeleine Milhaud

Jean Roy — Interviewer

Olivier Bernager — Interviewer

Program notes

Born at the end of the 19th century, Madeleine Milhaud got married in 1925 to the composer Darius Milhaud, one of her cousins she knew since her childhood. Paul Claudel was the best man at their marriage in Aix-en-Provence, France. Portrait of a woman deeply involved in the 20th century's history of art.

Madeleine Milhaud wrote several libretti for the operas composed by her husband: Médée in 1938, Bolivar, in collaboration with Jules Supervielle in 1943 and La Mère coupable after Beaumarchais' text (1965). As an actress, she played at the Théâtre de l'Atelier with Charles Dullin. She also recorded recitals of works by her husband and by Igor Stravinsky, worked as a set designer and taught French literature in the US, at Mills College, California, where Darius Milhaud had taught composing during the occupation of France by Germans.

Throughout her life, she has knew the most important musicians of her time: Satie, Ravel, Stravinsky, Schönberg, de Falla, Hindemith, Shostakovich, Honegger, Poulenc, Ives, Kurtweill, among others, and the greatest performers such as Menuhin, Désormière, Bernstein, Munch, Markevitch, Monteux, Marcelle, Meyer, Janine Micheau, Marya Freund…

She evolved around the same intellectual milieu as her husband and got in touch with popular writers like Gide, Claudel, Cocteau, Cendrars, Malraux, with painters like Léger, Picasso and Masson, and with movie directors like Renoir, Cavalcanti and L'Herbier.

A scrupulous witness of her time, Madeleine Milhaud shows a great sense of observation. She knows how to tell a story, recalling faces and attitudes of the people she got in touch with during her life, and she often makes humorous remarks. She kept in touch with Darius' students (Betsy Jolas, Gilbert Amy and Georges Delerue among others), or with Claude Roy, a very good friend of hers and Darius Milhaud, and with the conductor Manuel Rosenthal.

Jean Roy, the author of this text, knew Darius Milhaud since 1954. He is the current president of the composer's Work, and he is very close to Madeleine. He also wrote books on Darius' works and on the "Groupe des Six" (Seuil publishing, France), a group the composer was part of in the 1920s.

Before this film, A visit to Darius Milhaud, another color documentary on Darius Milaud, was produced in the US. The present production, conceived at the time of the composer's centennial, has been shot at Madeleine's house, Boulevard de Clichy, in Paris. Surrounded by all her memories (photos, portraits…) she recalls her husband better than anybody else could do.

Jean Roy

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