Darius Milhaud
Milken Digital Archives Vol.20 No.1
L'dor vador - A Celebration of Youth





Cantata from the Proverbs
New London Children's Choir
Ronald Corp, Conductor

  1. Who Crieth Woe
  2. The Woman Folly
  3. A Woman of Valor
Milhaud’s Cantata from Proverbs dates from 1951 and is scored for treble voices with the delicate trio accompaniment of oboe, cello, and harp. The work was the Ernest Bloch Award commission for the United Temple Chorus, to whom it is dedicated, and was written while Milhaud was teaching at Mills College in Oakland, California. It received its premiere the same year by that chorus at a concert in Lawrence, New York, conducted by Isadore Freed.

For its three movements Milhaud excerpted passages from three proverbs or chapters of the biblical Book of Proverbs (mishlei), Nos. 23, 9 and 31, in that order, which he set according to the English translation of the Masoretic text of the Bible. He had intended originally to assign his own descriptive titles to the movements—L’Ivrognerie et ses suites (The Drunk and His Fate); Le Banquet de la folie (The Banquet of Folly); and La Femme forte (The Strong Wife)—but he did not retain these for the printed score.

The first movement is expansive and flowing, while the second and third exhibit dancelike figurations and motifs. The third is the most complex, with a three-part fugue. 

The Book of Proverbs belongs to the so-called “wisdom literature” of the Hebrew Bible, known as k’tuvim, or “the Writings,” and contains not only moral, ethical, and religious principles and maxims, but also keen observations on human nature and human behavior. 

The first movement, verses 29–35 from Chapter 3, “Who Crieth, Woe?”, addresses the consequences of overindulgence. The second, verses 13–18 of Chapter 9, “Woman Folly,” portrays an unworthy woman as the epitome of thoughtlessness and foolishness. This is in stark contrast to the virtues of the ideal wife depicted in the third movement, set to verses 10–31 of Chapter 31. This particular passage is separated from the earlier part of the chapter by its acrostic form, a poetic device whereby each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is probably one of the most familiar parts of Proverbs, commonly known by its opening two Hebrew words, Eshet Hayil, which is also often used colloquially as a term of endearment to describe a treasured woman or wife who has all possible desired attributes. Its most common English translation, “a woman of valor,” is unsatisfactory. “Valor” is neither accurate in this case (the word Hayil appears only three other times in the entire Bible with reference to a woman, but not in the same context) nor applicable to the description of valued qualities cited in the text; and its military connotation in modern English (even if confined to bravery) is misleading, as is “virtue,” which has been attempted by some translators. The problem remains to be solved, and no alternative suggestion has gained currency. Yet we intuitively know what it signifies in traditional Jewish perception: nothing less than the “ideal woman” or “ideal wife,” from the vantage point of traditional Jewish values and accolades, who is, in contemporary parlance, “all things to all people” in her family, but not excluding herself. Actually the entire poem—with its enumeration of her attributes, literal or symbolic—is the only meaningful “translation” of the phrase. (See also the notes to Judith Lang Zaimont’s A Woman of Valor.)

In traditional Jewish homes this acrostic is recited or sung by the husband, supported by the family, to his wife at the table of the weekly Sabbath eve dinner, prior to commencing the meal. It has been set to numerous tunes for that function. The Milhaud setting here is, of course, strictly for concert performance.

By: Neil W. Levin

Baroque Suite (excerpts)
Davidson, Charles

Halevi, Yehuda (Lyrics)
Finchley Children's Music Group
Jewish Heritage Youth Chorus
Wilks, Nicholas (Conductor)
III. Courante, "Halomi" (My Dream) 2:20
IV. Sarabande, "Et shimkha l'varekh" (Wake  Me to Bless My Name) 2:29
V. Minuet, "Kol kokhvei voker" (Morning Hymn) 1:42
VI. Fugue, "Helki adonai" (The Lord is My Portion) 2:22
Song of Songs
Dessau, Paul

Anonymous (Lyrics)
New London Children's Choir
Corp, Ronald (Conductor)
Chapter 5:8 1:59
Chapter 5:2 1:49
Chapter 7:11 1:38
Chapter 8:4 2:14
Cantate des proverbes
Milhaud, Darius

Bible - New Testament (Lyrics)
Bible - Old Testament (Lyrics)
New London Children's Choir
Corp, Ronald (Conductor)
Who Crieth Woe 3:06
The Woman Folly 2:11
A Woman of Valor 4:46
A Singing of Angels
Davidson, Charles

Anonymous (Lyrics)
Rosenbaum, Samuel (Lyrics)
Finchley Children's Music Group
Wilks, Nicholas (Conductor)
I. Once My Pair of Oxen 2:33
II. My Pages are Snowy White 4:10
III. In the Valley 2:14
IV. If Dreams Came True 3:04
V. Dance with Me 2:39
VI. The Merry Rebbe Elie 3:21
VII. Softly Shines the Moonlight 3:25
VIII. Yome, Yome 2:42
IX. No One Else 2:18
Psalms of Israel (excerpts)
Miron, Issachar

Anonymous (Lyrics)
Jewish Heritage Youth Chorus
Levin, Neil (Conductor)
Even ma'asu habbonim 2:29
Yisrael b'tah badonai 3:26
Hal'lu et adonai 1:45
Ze hayyom 2:43
Psalm 81
Ben-Amots, Ofer

Bible - Old Testament (Lyrics)
Hladik, Petr-percussion
Mikeska, Rostislav-percussion
Permonik Children's Choir
Seinerova, Eva (Conductor)