Milhaud Little Symphony no. 3, op. 71 ‘Serenade’

performed by the Orchestre de Radio Luxembourg under the composer’s baton

(cover image by Aaron Burden)

As you can see, we’ve moved forward a bit in this third post on this Monday in the middle of the year. The third little symphony was completed in 1921, after a return to France from Brazil. It’s a septet, this time, for flute, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass.

The first movement, marked vivement, is still ebullient, but there’s an even greater sense here of everyone basically doing their own thing. The three woodwinds seem almost unaware of each other’s presence, and this great independence is almost comical until you realize that individually, each of them is really quite beautiful, and that it might just take a bit of adjustment to hear them as a whole. The independence here gives the music a fluidity, a sense of freeness, of room to breathe and stretch, even if the movement is only just over a minute long.

The second movement, another ‘calme,’ is again transparent and polytonal but less bucolic in nature, instead giving us a sort of muddy quiet.

The third movement, ‘rondemont,’ is the first real move, in my opinion, away from the pastoral, flowery sound in favor of a lively, celebratory spirit. Things seem, really, almost to fall into step with one another, as if having finally gotten everyone’s attention at a party.

Every once in a while, a YouTube comment is actually insightful, and helps me to have a greater sense of appreciation for something I might be inclined to dismiss, like these symphonies. Granted, I’ve had these six works on my to-do list for about a year, and only now have I been able to do them. It’s not that I don’t care for them. In some ways I’m fascinated by them, but from a general, average, normal listener’s standpoint, I can’t say they’re magnificently moving. However, there is a certain beauty in all of this seeming chaos and layers of florid detail. A guy named Gérard Begni in a comment on the above YouTube video, says:

This “little syphony” [sic] exhibits the same features than the five others: a little chamber orchestra, about three or four minutes of music with the feeeling [sic] to have completed the work, a feeling of happiness and the pleasure to handle polytonality with a virtuoso pen and for our greatest pleasure.
And I think he’s right. Maybe you’d prefer Debussy’s lush, velvety textures or something to Milhaud’s bustly chirpy colorful works here, and at this point, we’re only halfway through the set. Relax, though, no more posts for today. We’ll do the final three tomorrow, so stay tuned, and thanks so much for reading.

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