In 1937, when Milhaud agreed to write a piano duo for a performance at the Paris International Exposition, he did not anticipate just how difficult he would find the task. He later remarked: “it gave me enormous trouble”.
In struggling to overcome his writer’s block, Milhaud fell back on using recycled musical material, most notably themes from a children’s theatre production – an adaptation of Moliérè’s Le medécin volant (The Flying Doctor) – on which he was also working. Milhaud acknowledged this aspect of the work’s provenance in naming it after the company for which the play was being produced – the Theatre Scaramouche.
While the finished duo is laced with the kind of wit and exuberance in which both children and adults delight, Milhaud did not feel it was substantial enough to warrant the attention it received immediately following its first performance. Yet although he initially resisted publishing the work, he later capitalised on its popularity by creating several new arrangements, including this version for saxophone and orchestra.