In 1930 the French composer Darius Milhaud achieved a major career milestone: his ambitious opera Christophe Colomb received its premiere at Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden. The premiere was the most prestigious of a surprisingly large number of performances of Milhaud’s music in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Even as he found success in Germany, many French critics dismissed Milhaud’s music as frivolous or incomprehensible, and in 1930 the Paris Opéra had yet to stage one of Milhaud’s works. In the wake of the Berlin premiere, however, the specter of German cultural dominance provoked calls in Paris for reevaluation of Milhaud’s work. In response, the director of the Paris Opéra, Jacques Rouché, quickly secured the right to stage Milhaud’s next opera, Maximilien, and Milhaud subsequently received a string of state commissions. After years of struggle with French critics and institutions, Milhaud’s success abroad finally precipitated official recognition at home.
Milhaud owed his popularity in Germany and the subsequent transformation in his French reception to his relationship with the Viennese music publisher Universal Edition. Unpublished correspondence and contracts reveal how the firm orchestrated Milhaud’s success in Germany through a network of affiliated conductors, composers, and institutions. Universal Edition and its director, Emil Hertzka, played crucial but largely unrecognized roles in advancing Milhaud’s early career, and Milhaud’s letters demonstrate his keen appreciation for the advantages that working with Universal brought, both to his finances and to his international reputation. The transnational collaboration that enabled Milhaud’s German reception and facilitated his path to official recognition ultimately offers a thought-provoking counterexample to the historiography of chauvinism and antipathy that otherwise dominates narratives of interwar Franco-German musical relations.