Born in Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1892, Darius Milhaud was a prolific and highly original composer. At age seventeen, he left home to enter the Paris Conservatory where he trained originally as a violinist before turning to composition. Following his graduation he spent two years in Brazil, with light duties as secretary to the French Minister, Paul Claudel. Later, Milhaud captured his impressions of Brazilian music in his Souvenirs and Memories of Brazil, 1921.
Returning to Paris in 1918, he became a member of the creative group headed by Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso, which emphasized youth and audacity. Some of his earliest successes were in the field of ballet, particularly LeBoeuf sur le Toit , 1920, and La Creation du Monde , 1923. The second work was one of the first to use the jazz idiom. It resulted partly from his visit to New York where he heard Black jazz musicians in Harlem.
In 1940, he came to the United States to teach composition at Mills College in Oakland, California. After World War II, he taught in alternate years at the Paris Conservatory and Mills College. Despite crippling arthritis in his hip, he conducted concerts while seated in a chair.
His compositions are particularly noted as being influenced by jazz and for their use of polytonality (music in more than one key at once). His output includes 12 operas, 20 concertos, 8 symphonies for full orchestra, plus many choral and chamber works, and scores for films, ballets, and plays.