Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) was a prolific French composer and teacher and a member of Les Six early in his career. He was born to Jewish parents and grew up in Aix-en-Provence, France. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire, graduating in 1915. His composition career took off from there. He traveled to Brazil (Rio) and the United States (Harlem), where he heard the uniquely New World sounds of Brazilian music and American jazz, both of which would influence his compositional style. The Harlem experience inspired him to write the jazz-tinged ballet La creation du Monde in 1922, before even American composers were making serious efforts to blend jazz with concert music. The Nazi occupation of France put Milhaud in serious danger: not only was he a prominent Jewish figure, he also was often confined to a wheelchair due to severe rheumatoid arthritis. He fled for the United States 1940. While there, he secured a teaching position at Mills College in Oakland, California, where his notable students included Burt Bacharach, William Bolcom, Peter Schickele, and Dave Brubeck. Once France was liberated, he resumed his career there, alternating years at Mills College and the Paris Conservatoire from 1947-1971. His music further distinguished itself through its unique and unabashed use of polytonality. Milhaud wrote two autobiographies. The first (1953) was called Notes Without Music. Despite having dodged Nazi persecution and spent years in pain confined to a wheelchair, Milhaud titled the second (1972) Ma vie heureuse (My Happy Life). He died in Geneva at age 81.
There are several internet biographies of Milhaud. See Wikipedia, Naxos, Universal Edition, the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, the Music Academy Online, and American National Biography Online. Also, Milhaud’s former student Dave Brubeck offers reflections on his beloved teacher in this movie clip and this very moving audio excerpt (the Milhaud section starts around 14 minutes in).
Two Marches was the result of a commission by the publishing company G. Schirmer in 1945, following the success of his 1944 Suite Française. Like the Suite, Two Marches was inspired by World War II, in this case written as a memorial to American servicemen who lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is in two movements. The first, “In Memoriam,” is slow, lyrical, and heartfelt, moving in unexpected harmonic directions. The second, “Gloria Victoribus,” is more like what one would expect from a march: tuneful, energetic, and optimistic. Two Marches has been out of print for decades, but it can be found in some band libraries around the US. This means, though, that no recording of it appears to exist. I hope to remedy this as the Hartwick College Wind Ensemble prepares to perform it in October, 2017.
In addition, very little research appears to exist on this piece. The most substantial writing about it can be found in the book The Wind Band and its Repertoire, in an article by Stephen Miller from 1988. This 1992 article from the BASBWE website, also by Miller, has a shorter but similar description. There is also a quite tepid review of the piece by none other than Richard Franko Goldman in which he says “These two rather inconsequential pieces were composed in 1945 to commemorate the end of World War II, and the best one can say of them is that they are not less good than the run of occasional pieces inspired by the war. Neither are they perceptibly better.” (From Notes, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Mar., 1948), p. 258, available through JSTOR.)
Despite Mr. Goldman’s ambivalence, I would love to know more about this piece. If you come across a recording or any additional resources about it, please contact me.