MILHAUD: Service Sacre
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DARIUS MILHAUD SERVICE SACR?ë
Sabbath Morning Service with additional prayers for Friday evening
Darius Milhaud's Service Sacre is considered one of only two compositions in which the Hebrew liturgy of an entire prayer service forms the basis of a large scale work of universal spiritual experience by an internationally renowned classical composer.?á (The other is Ernest Bloch's earlier Avodath Hakodesh.)?á As Milken Archive Artistic Director Neil Levin points out, the Service SacrJ is a work intended for use in Jewish worship that can also speak on a spiritual and artistic level to people of all faiths, just as the masterful musical settings of the Roman Catholic Mass can be meaningful to non-Christians.
Commissioned in 1947 byone of America's foremost Reform congregations, Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco, Milhaud's Service Sacre was originallyconceived as setting of the Sabbath morning service, using the text and formatof the American Reform Movement's Union Prayer Book.?á To broaden thework's potential usage in worship services, the composer later addedsettings of five portions of the Sabbath eve (Friday evening) liturgy(1947-50).?á The score calls for full chorus and orchestra, a baritone soloistin the cantor's role, singing in Hebrew, and a recitant, or dramatic speaker for the Englishreadings and spoken prayers, which are rendered against atmospheric orchestralinterludes.?á The chorus plays a central role, independently and as an equalpartner in responsorial passages with the cantor.?á Consistent with Frenchstyle, the instrumental textures are transparent, dominated by winds and brass.
What makes the ServiceSacre particularly distinctive andpersonal is that in formulating its musical language, Milhaud turned to theFrench-Jewish heritage of his ancestors - the Proven?ºal rite, known as the minhag
Carpentras, -- the unique liturgical tradition of the Jews of the ComtatVenaissin region that was nearly extinct in practice and little knownelsewhere. Born in Marseilles and raised in Aix-en-Provence, Milhaud wasdescended from a long-established Jewish family of this secluded area of Provence, with roots traceable at least to the 15th century.?á Throughout the ServiceSacre, elements of the Proven?ºal riteserve as a unifying aesthetic force, not only structurally in the form ofthematic leitmotifs, but emotionally as well.?á The solo cantorial lines arealternately declamatory or quite melismatic and chromatic, but they are muchless florid than the more familiar, virtuoso cantorial idioms of the Ashkenazi tradition.?áIn all, there is a pervasive sonic aura about the work that suggests an oldunderlying tradition, developed with 20th-century techniques and refractedthrough polytonal and polyrhythmic prisms.?á On this recording, Gerard Schwarzconducts the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and the Prague Philharmonic Choir,with baritone Yaron Windmueller and Rabbi Rodney Mariner.
As a member of theloosely associated group of French musical thinkers and composers known as LesSix, Milhaud embraced the ideals of Jean Cocteau and Eric Satie,which translated musically into a penchant for clarity, simplicity anddirectness as well as for sounds related to nature and daily life, with aconcomitant aversion to romantic excess and sentimentality.?á Rejecting musicalimpressionism, he was subsequently drawn to \ethnic"-- i.e. non-Western, ornon-classically oriented music.?á As his musical style matured, he incorporateda variety of popular materials into his musical vocabulary, including Frenchfolksong, Latin American dance rhythms, Jewish secular and sacred melodies, andjazz, which he encountered in London and in New York's Harlem.
Milhaud also belonged toa second group of musicians: those European-Jewish emigre composers during the1930s and '40s who took refuge in the United States from Fascist persecutionand the resulting Holocaust.?á He left German-occupied Paris in 1940 and took upa teaching position at Mills College in California arranged by his friend,conductor Pierre Monteux.?á While continuing to create at an undiminished pace -he is one of the 20th century's most prolific composers -- Milhaudbecame a devoted teacher, and influenced several American composers includingDave Brubeck and William Bolcom.?á For twenty years, beginning in 1951, hetaught every summer at the Aspen Festival.
While Milhaud produced Jewish-inspired compositions prior to hisimmigration to the United States, his religious and especially his ProvenHal-Jewish cultural rootsbecame a more potent and frequent source of artistic inspiration after hearrived in this country.?á Perhaps his narrow escape from Europe with his familyand the subsequent murder of more than twenty relatives at the hands of theGermans played a role in this development. In addition to the Service SacrJ, Milhaud's other large-scaleJewish related works include cantatas based on the Book of Job and on thePsalms, the opera David, and various orchestral and choral works.