Composition Description by Uncle Dave Lewis
Darius Milhaud wrote La muse ménagère (The Household Muse) in Oakland, CA, in 1944 as a tribute to his wife, Madeleine. It is a set of 15 short pieces for piano solo that are so brief, in fact, that the whole set lasts less than 22 minutes. La muse ménagère is written in a straightforward, direct, and uncomplicated style which is nonetheless clearly of the modern era. The program of La muse ménagère is drawn from Milhaud's own home environment and is a deeply personal work that fairly beams with the love and respect that Milhaud felt for Madeleine. Madeleine Milhaud was a famous actress in France before the Second World War, working on several projects with her husband and creating the part of the narrator in Honegger's opera Le roi David. Once in California, Madeleine Milhaud obtained a post as an instructor in Mills College's French Theater program, and took on the unenviable task of staging the French Classics utilizing American students whose grasp of French was limited. In addition to all this work, Madeleine continued to make a home for herself and her husband. As Milhaud recalled, "life is hard for Madeleine here: there are no servants in the United States except at wages higher than the salaries of University professors. Madeleine has to cope with it all unaided: cleaning, buying provisions, cooking and washing-up, and we have a constant stream of visitors. She also acts as chauffeur for me (the diabetic Milhaud by this time was confined to a wheelchair) and has to snatch a few moments here and there for her own work and reading. You see the title of the little piano suite I wrote for her, La muse ménagère, is no fanciful allusion."
Individual titles of the 15 pieces are as follows, 1. "La Mienne" (My Own), 2. "Le Réveil" (Getting Up); 3. "Les Soins du ménage" (Household Chores); 4. "La Poésie"; 5. "La Cuisine"; 6. "Les Fleurs dans la maison" (Flowers in the House); 7. "La Lessive" (Washing); 8. "Musique ensemble"; 9. "Les Fils Peintre" (this refers to Milhaud's son Daniel, studying painting at the time); 10. "Le Chat" (The cat); 11. "Cartomancie" (Fortune-Telling); 12. "Les Soins au malade" (Nursing the Sick); 13. "La Douceur des soirées" (Giving Parties); 14. "Lectures Nocturnes" (Reading at Night) and 15. "Reconnaissance á la Muse" (Gratitude to the Muse).
La muse ménagère was published as Milhaud's Op. 245 and was relatively little known until NPR Classical radio programmers began to feature it as regular broadcast fare in the 1980s. Milhaud also created a chamber suite from this score that is practically never played. The work has since gained a strong following as its graceful lilt and understated charm is immediately appealing. La muse ménagère has also found acceptance among feminist theorists as a genuine and unbiased celebration of femininity, rare for a work by a male composer.