La création du monde

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La création du monde (The Creation of the World)
Choreographer Jean Borlin
Music Darius Milhaud
Based on African folk mythology
Premiere 1923
Original ballet company Ballets suédois
Type Classical ballet

The composition La création du monde, Op. 81a, is a 20-minute-long ballet with music composed by Darius Milhaud, in 1922–1923,[1] which outlines the Creation of the World, based on African folk mythology.


On a trip to the United States in 1922, Darius Milhaud heard "authentic" jazz for the first time, on the streets of Harlem,[1] which left a great impact on his musical outlook. Using some jazz movements, the following year, 1923, he finished composing La création du monde, which was cast as a ballet in six continuous dance scenes.[1] The ballet was based on a scenario by Blase Cendrars.[2]

The ballet La création du monde was commissioned by the ballet company Ballets suédois, which were the Swedish contemporaries to Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.[3] The ballet company was very influential in the early 1920s, staging five Paris seasons and touring continually; the company also premiered Cole Porter’s only ballet (Within the Quota), during the same season (in 1923) as the première of "la création du Monde".[3] The ballet reflects both the ideal of the aesthetic of Les six to combine popular forms of art (CF Cocteau "Le Coq et L'Arlequin"), and a centuries-old French penchant for exotica.

Milhaud was very susceptible to all kinds of influences, but it was a different type of exotica that drew him: Milhaud was in the Paris of Le jazz hot, singer Josephine Baker, Pablo Picasso's paintings, and the sculptures inspired by African masks.[3] During the Early 20s, African (and Afro-American) fashion was sweeping Paris, and this ballet may have been Ballets Suédois’ attempt to follow the trend.[3]

When Milhaud first heard an American jazz band, he was reportedly so captivated that he took off to New York City to spend time in clubs and bars, visit Harlem, and mingle with jazz musicians.[3] After returning to France, Milhaud began to write in what he called a "jazz idiom" (style): Milhaud chose to color his music with bluesy turns of harmony and melody, swinging climaxes, and stomping rhythms.[3] Jazz influences appear in many of his compositions, but this ballet was the first opportunity to express his new passion; even the instrumental grouping also draws on his memories of New York City: "In some of the shows," Milhaud noted, "the singers were accompanied by flute, clarinet, trumpets, trombone, a complicated percussion section played by just one man, piano and string quartet." [3]


At the time, La création du monde was more a succès de scandale than a true success.[3] The ballet costumes designed by Fernand Léger (who created the set also) worked well visually, but were difficult to dance in: the costumes were heavy and inflexible to move freely.[3]

The costumes and sets from the original performance of La création du monde still survive in museums and galleries, while the music has taken its role in the concert hall. The choreography is revived occasionally out of curiosity.[3]


The work is composed for an unusually proportioned orchestra (Milhaud also made a concert arrangement of this work for 2 violins, viola, cello, and piano.) [3][4]


The ballet is in six continuous sections as follows:[1]


The work begins with a solo for the saxophone played over a steady pulse. Other instruments are added to reach a climax, and the saxophone resumes. The trumpets come to the fore, the flutes comment on the saxophone tune. There is a general rumbling in the background while the saxophone and bassoon play together until the saxophone plays the end of the tune.

I. The Chaos before Creation[edit]

Le chaos avant la création

The piano and percussion thump out a rhythm and the double bass begins the subject of a jazz fugue. In turn, the trombone, saxophone and trumpet contribute to the fugal texture. Other instruments enter playing the subject as the music gets more and more complex. The fugue ends and slow, somewhat ominous music leads to the next section.

II. The slowly lifting darkness, the creation of trees, plants, insects, birds and beasts[edit]

La naissance de la flore et de la faune

II. returns to the opening legato melody, played by flute against the tune from the second section played by cello gradually leading to a third tune, a blues, played by the oboe.

III. Man and woman created[edit]

La naissance de l'homme et de la femme

III. sees the two violins pitted against the bassoon in a cakewalk.

IV. The desire of man and woman[edit]

Le désir

IV. includes a solo for clarinet with a rhythmic accompaniment of piano, strings and percussion and then sees the return of the tune from the first section which eventually gives way to the rhythmic accompaniment which increases in passion.

V. The man and woman kiss (Coda)[edit]

Le printemps ou l'apaisement

The final section includes motives from II., the overture, and I. Music derived from the latter is played by the flute utilizing "flutter-tonguing". The work closes with a gentle D Major 9 chord from saxophone and strings.


  1. ^ a b c d "Milhaud - La création du monde" (of Darius Milhaud, English language), Pomona College, Department of Music, 1999, webpage: PomonaEdu-Milhaud-Creation.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra" (program notes), Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, 1999, webpage: SPCO-98
  4. ^ Del Mar, Norman. Anatomy of the Orchestra. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983 (2nd edition). Page 207.

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