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Name of Work

Milhaud, Darius (1892-1974)
Les Rêves de Jacob (The Dreams of Jacob) Suite choreographique, Op. 294 for oboe, violin, viola, cello and double bass

Movements:
Animé (Jacob's Pillow)
Mysterieux (The First Dream: The Angel's Ladder)
Modéré (Prophecy)
Modérément animé (The Second Dream: Flight with the Dark Angel and Benediction)
Modérément animé Solennel (Israel/Hymn)

Performances:


Apr 19, 1998



Stefan Hersh, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Christopher Costanza, Cello
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Bradley Opland, Double bass


Apr 20, 1998



Stefan Hersh, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Christopher Costanza, Cello
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Bradley Opland, Double bass


Apr 22, 1998



Stefan Hersh, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Christopher Costanza, Cello
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Bradley Opland, Double bass

MILHAUD - Les Reves de Jacob (Jacob's Dreams), Op. 294

Composed in 1948

When a man entitles his autobiography My Happy Life, as Darius Milhaud did, that man has been blessed not only with good fortune in the day-to-day aspects of living, but also with an inner serenity, and a personality that discerns the sunshine, not the shadows. From some points of view Milhaud's life was not, in fact, happy at all: he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for many years, he was forced to flee his beloved homeland after France was occupied by the Nazis in 1940. Nevertheless, the word that came to him to describe his existence was "happy." He opened the book with a sentence that also tells much about him; rendered into English it reads: "I am a Frenchman from Provence, and Jewish in religion."

His family could trace its presence in the South of France back through many centuries; a biographical essay by Christopher Palmer points out that he was truly and deeply Provencal, with the region's sights and sounds seeming to be part of his very soul. "For Milhaud, all roads led back to [Provence]," Palmer writes, "and no composer has captured its Mediterranean spirit in music more persuasively."

He traveled far beyond the land of his birth, notably to Brazil during World War I, where he served in a diplomatic post and, more importantly for his future, absorbed myriad musical impressions. His first exposure to jazz, another major influence, came during a visit to the U.S. in the 1920s. He would return to this country upon the outbreak of World War II, and like so many other emigré musicians of that era, found refuge in California, where he taught at Mills College. Postwar, he returned to France and took up a teaching position at the Paris Conservatory, dividing his time thenceforth between Europe and America; he also traveled to the newly-founded state of Israel. When he died in 1974, his list of works numbered almost 450.

Several pieces on that list were inspired by his Jewish heritage, include an opera, David; his last composition, a cantata for the 1973 Festival of Israel; the ballet Moses; a Sacred Service, a Liturgy, and a set of Jewish Poems. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Israel, being celebrated during 1998, the Chicago Chamber Musicians have chosen another such piece from the Milhaud canon, Jacob's Dreams.

In 1948, the composer was invited to teach at the Tanglewood Festival, summer home of the Boston Symphony, by BSO music director Serge Koussevitzky (a generous friend to emigré composers). Here he was "introduced to the famous arts patroness Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who commissioned him to write for the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, a neighbor of Tanglewood in the hills of western Massachusetts. She wanted the music to be appropriate both as a choreographic vehicle and as a chamber composition. Premiered at Jacob's Pillow in 1949, the five-movement suite for oboe and strings, in which the wind instrument may be interpreted as representing the voice of God, pays tribute to the dance festival, but also to the state of Israel, for Jacob's other name is Israel, and he is the Biblical founder of the Jewish nation that spans five millennia.

Jacob's tale in Genesis is full of dreams and marvels. They are presented in the ballet and described by the music as follows:

Jacob's Pillow: The future father of the 12 tribes of Israel rests his head on a stone that is later to be the cornerstone of the temple in Jerusalem.

First Dream, The Angels' Ladder: Jacob sees a ladder set up on the earth, the top reaching to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it.

Prophecy: The Promised Land is defined. The Lord tells Jacob that the land on which he lies will be his and his children's.

Second Dream, Fight with the Dark Angel and Benediction: Jacob struggles with the angel and wins the Lord's blessing.

Israel: The composition concludes with a hymn to Israel, a name full of promise, Jacob's new name as patriarch.

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performed April 19 and 20, 1998



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