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Celebrating the absurd, lyrical and path-breaking: music by Milhaud, Schoenberg and Dvořák

Comœdia illustré - journal artistique bi-mensuel
Jean Cocteau's 1920 production of "Le boeuf sur le toit" featuring music by Darius Milhaud

Hosts Michael Stern and Dan Margolies celebrate the September birthdays of Darius Milhaud, Arnold Schoenberg and Antonín Dvořák. We'll listen to the Kansas City Symphony perform some of their most beloved works.


Michael Stern
Dan Margolies


Part 1 - Milhaud and Schoenberg
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La Creation du Monde, Op. 81
by Darius Milhaud
Live performance, May 2011

One of the interesting aspects of Milhaud’s music is his use of polytonality, or the use of more than one key simultaneously, which he deploys here to wonderful effect, along with jazz harmonies. "The bitonality helps to explain the organized chaos of this piece," Michael Stern says. In depicting the creation story, "there is this coming into being from nothingness. That idea is made manifest in the music and he does it incredibly well."

Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4
by Arnold Schoenberg
Live performance, June 2015

While you don’t quite hear the techniques in this piece that came to be associated with Schoenberg — serialism, atonality, twelve-tone music — you can see that Schoenberg is taking tonality here pretty much as far as it can go. "Verklärte Nacht is really the last hurrah of the 19th century," says Michael Stern "and yet this advanced harmonic map for the piece is pretty extraordinary to the point where [Schoenberg] was criticized for having 'broken the rules.'"

Part 2 - Milhaud and Dvořák
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Le Boeuf sur le Toit, Op. 58
by Daris Milhaud
Live performance, April 2019

Milhaud said he composed Le Bœuf sur le Toit as “fifteen minutes of music, rapid and gay, as a background to any Charlie Chaplin silent movie.” Milhaud had spent two years in Brazil in the French diplomatic service during the First World War, and he was greatly influenced by its music.

Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88
by Antonín Dvořák
Live performance, October 2017

You can hear sounds from nature in this piece, including hunting horn calls and birdsongs played by various wind instruments. Dvořák’s biographer Hanz-Hubert Schönzeler wrote, “When one walks in those forests surrounding Dvořák’s country home on a sunny summer’s day, with the birds singing and the leaves of trees rustling in a gentle breeze, one can virtually hear the music.” Michael Stern hears an "elegiac, nostalgic wistfulness" in the work.

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As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at
Sam Wisman is a Producer for 91.9 Classical KC. Email him at