Composers Datebook®

Milhaud and Bernstein in Venice

Composer's Datebook - September 12, 2023


For decades many of the 20th century’s greatest composers routinely visited Venice’s famous canals and churches during a biennial music festival that showcased brand-new works by the likes of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Britten, and others.

The French composer Darius Milhaud describes sharing space with several of his composer-colleagues in a cramped Festival “green room.” “It was a normal sight to see Stravinsky’s rain-coat and Constant Lambert’s tweed overcoat hanging near my two walking sticks,” writes Milhaud. “Meanwhile, the Italian composer Hildebrando Pizetti would be putting up a mirror, opening a silver toilet-case, and arranging flowers, his wife’s photograph and a sheaf of telegrams.”

On today’s date in 1937, Milhaud conducted the first performance of his Suite Provencale at the Venice Festival. This jaunty score proved to be one of his most popular orchestral works. In 1954, it was Leonard Bernstein’s turn. On today’s date that year, he conducted in Venice the premiere performance of his Serenade for violin and orchestra, with Isaac Stern the featured soloist.

Despite its admirable track record for picking winners, the Venice Festival shut down operations in 1973, although its impact lives on in the number of modern masterworks it helped launch in its day.

Music Played in Today's Program

Darius Milhaud (1892 - 1974) Suite provençale, Op. 152b Detroit Symphony; Neeme Järvi, cond. Chandos 7031

Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990) Serenade (after Plato's "Symposium") Zino Francescatti, violin; NY Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond. Sony 60559

On This Day


  • 1825 - Austrian flautist and conductor Karl Doppler, in Lwow;

  • 1901 - German composer Ernst Pepping, in Duisburg;

  • 1906 - Soviet composer Dimitri Shostakovich, in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Sept. 25);

  • 1939 - American composer Phillip Ramey, in Chicago;


  • 1764 - French composer Jean Philippe Rameau, age 80, in Paris;.


  • 1910 - Mahler: Symphony No. 8 ("Symphony of a Thousand") in Munich, with the composer conducting;

  • 1932 - Villa-Lobos: "Bachianas Brasilieras" No. 1, in Rio de Janerio;

  • 1937 - Milhaud: "Suite Provençale" in Venice, conducted by the composer;

  • 1954 - Bernstein: "Serenade" (after Plato's "Symposium") at Teatro La Fenice in Venice, with composer conducting and Isaac Stern the violin soloist;

  • 1967 - Kokonen: Symphony No. 3, in Helsinki;

  • 1969 - Henri Lazarof: Cello Concerto, in Oslo, Norway;


  • 1840 - Marriage of Robert Schumann, age 30, to Clara Wieck, on the day before her 21st birthday.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®